For decades, critics have attacked the Rotenberg Center in Boston — which was originally founded to treat severely autistic and mentally disabled children but also accepts kids with ADHD, mental illnesses, and juvie rap sheets — for its use of electric shock therapy. (You may recall Jennifer Gonnerman's 2006 Mother Jones piece, in which she described a 9-year-old with electrodes strapped to his legs so staffers could easily zap him for minor transgressions, and a 15-year-old girl who actually held up a sheet of paper that said "HELP US" as she walked by her classroom.) One mother, Cheryl McCollins, has been trying to sue the school since 2002, after her teenage son Andre received permanent brain damage due to being shocked 31 times in one day for refusing to take off his coat in a new classroom. He's now heavily medicated and state institutionalized, and it doesn't look like he's going to get better anytime soon. This week, she convinced a judge to show a recorded video of Andre's ordeal to not only the jury, but the public as well.
The video's release is a huge victory for the Center's opponents, since the school convinced a judge to seal the video eight years ago and its attorneys tried their best to stop it from going public this week. "These are dramatic tapes, there's no question about that," said one lawyer. "But the treatment plan at the Rotenberg Center, the treatment plan that Andre had in place on October 25, was followed." McCollins disagreed. "I never signed up for him to be tortured, terrorized and abused," she told the jury. "I had no idea, no idea, that they tortured the children in the school." She also testified that she could hear staff members laugh while her son lay catatonic on the floor.
The Rotenberg Center has not publicly commented on the case, but the PR firm that represents it released a statement saying that "JRC educates and treats the most difficult behaviorally involved students in the country and administers the (shocks) to treat severe behavior disorders only after other treatments have failed and a court order is obtained to do so at the request of the student's parents and doctor." But it doesn't look like their excuses will bail them out this time. In a statement, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray said, "This is the only facility in the nation that can practice shock therapy and this video is beyond disturbing. These therapies are inhumane and should not be allowed. The Senate has repeatedly passed legislation to stop this practice and it's time for the entire Legislature to take action."
The video is truly horrifying — you can hear Andre, strapped down with a helmet, screaming in pain and pleading for help throughout the "therapy" — so let's hope it helps action come more swiftly.