(Drawn by Stan Clawson)
It stinks really. If coping with a new SCI (spinal cord injury) wasn’t challenging enough, there’s another whole layer of trouble for ladies facing such an injury. And the problem is that these ladies may not know about it until they are in the middle of it and hurt by it. To make it worse, we who love them may not even know to warn them. What am I talking about? Lurking in the virtual world are some sick men who prey upon these women at a most vulnerable point of life.
They are known in the SCI world as “devotees” or “devos”. Sometimes we simply call them wheelchair pretenders or disability trolls. Here’s how the perverted thing works. A man gets on a social website like Facebook and pretends to be a lady in a wheelchair. He steals some pictures of wheelchair users and takes them as his facebook photos. Next he starts sending friend requests to ladies in wheelchairs. These ladies, desperate to share with those who understand what the rest of us couldn’t possibly understand, embrace these friendships. After methodically building up an undeserved trust, they start talking shop. Perhaps they want to talk bath-rooming issues, which can be a great burden to one living with a SCI, or other such things at the most detailed, personal level. Need I go on? Remember the victim innocently thinks she is talking to another lady in a similar situation and so may talk frankly about it. Then, the pervert gets his kicks.
I’m trying to keep my cool as I type. I’m married to an attractive lady who happens to be in a wheelchair. She is vibrant, charming, and a lot of fun as well. I’m not surprised anyone would like her. I’m not even shocked another man might find her attractive and the wheelchair is, of course, a non-factor in all of that. But to be attracted to her only because she in a wheelchair…well, they don’t make adjectives strong enough for that!
You ask, well, how big a problem is this? Every month or so my Alicia gets a friend request from one of these pretenders. They are subtle and slick. A cursory glance would say it’s just a nice lady dealing with an SCI reaching out. A few have slipped by and had to be “unfriended” later. I doubt any lady living with a SCI has been able to be on Facebook without one of these men trying to weasle in. They are patient villains who might act normal for a long time before starting to go after what they really want.
Please don’t suggest that the answer is that ladies with SCIs just stay out of social media. That’s grossly unfair in that what would be fun for the rest of us should be open to them as well. In addition, the early days of an SCI may lead to a lot of time stuck at home. Then there are all those questions. Questions like “How do I do___ in a chair?” Questions that simply must be answered for life to go on. I am so grateful for what social media and disability forums meant to my wife, especially at the beginning. That and youtube videos challenged her and showed her what she could work toward. It really made a positive difference.
What I suggest is education. You and I don’t have to know all the ins and outs of these creeps, but must we must know this issue exists in case someone we love finds themselves with a SCI tomorrow. We must know to warn them when they are vulnerable and more easily taken advantage of. The cataclysmic change that comes on suddenly with an entrance of a wheelchair in your life would make the guard go down for the strongest of us. The younger the lady, perhaps the more likely to be fooled too.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there is something of the protect-your-woman in me. It’s not as simple as find these fiends and confront them since they are cloaked with anonymity in the virtual world. So we must arm ourselves with tools to protect. We are not experts in this situation, though Alicia and I have sat beside each other looking a person’s profile over and figuring out we had a “devo” on our hands. I want to direct you to the best tools I know of today.
If you know a lady with a new SCI, direct her to http://disabilitytrolls.blogspot.com/2012/09/disability-fakebook.html. Start there and read several other posts on how to spot these guys. It is run by Mr. Erik Kondo. We owe him a great debt for this and his Internet Security Network on Facebook. This site is not a Christian site, but I heartily recommend it to my Christian readers. Let our SCI friends and family enjoy social media like the rest of us. To ensure their safety let’s educate on the tools available and hunt down these warped disability trolls!