For the last two years, MHN has been campaigning for the closure of Kiwi Farms, a website that stalks the disabled, tricks them or hacks their accounts for intimate revelations. The abuse is recounted in Margaret Pless’ detailed and well sourced article for New York Magazine as well as many articles here.
So it is unsurprising that when previously respectable publisher Harper Collins released a book by author Judith Newman, “To Siri With Love” behaving in a similarly intrusive way towards her own son, that there would be widespread condemnation and a campaign to #BoycottToSiri. The book is a horrific invasion of privacy in which Newman shares private sexual and medical information and announces her intent to have her son sterilised. It is obviously capable of great harm to her child. On this occasion Harper Collins CEO Brian Murray and Publisher Michael Morrison took their eyes of the ball. They need to lose their jobs for it. Contact details for writing to them to ask them to withdraw the book are below.
We all remember our teenage years. The little ways our parents would embarrass us. The need for privacy to explore developing sexual feelings and to make mistakes without the world looking after our shoulders. These things are difficult enough for those of us without serious disabilities. Of course, for those suffering from emotional problems or serious conditions like autism the quest for dignity and autonomy can be far more complex and difficult.
Now, imagine your vile and emotionally abusive mother decides to –
- disclose to the world that you have a stigmatised disability – autism
- discuss your potty training (chapter 1)
- admit her favourite 20th century novel is the world’s most infamous paedophile novel (chapter 3)
- mock your sexuality – claiming she envisages it with a “Benny Hill” soundtrack (chapter 8)
- discusses your crushes and intimate relationships in detail (throughout)
- discussed your porn browsing habits and indeed your sibling’s (chapter 13)
- publicly states she intends to obtain power of attorney over you and have you sterilised (chapter 13)
For extra horror points, imagine a multinational corporation decides to help your mother distribute this worldwide in a book. That is the situation faced by Gus Newman at the hands of his mother Judith Newman, Harper Collins CEO Brian Murray and President Michael Morrison.
Judith Newman’s cruelty and mean spirited vision comes through frequently in the book as she describes other allegedly autistic people –
“like a cartoon character, body bent at the waist, legs spinning, kind of like the Road Runner with acne and a perpetual boner”
The hideousness of this woman’s words is only enhanced by the fact that the ultimate object of her book is her son. More disturbing are the other sinister revelations she lets slip throughout the book. Chapter 3 and she reveals that her, “favorite twentieth-century novel” is Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous book about paedophile obsession – Lolita.
Lolita is an infamous book in which a predatory paedophile called Humbert Humbert becomes the stepfather of a 12-year-old girl he then abuses. Written in his own first person account he details the relationship as an affair rather than a campaign of grooming followed by multiple rapes. He is unable to see that he is a child abuser.
Newman quotes him – “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.” “That never gets old”, she says. Why would anyone feel uncomfortable with this woman being a parent?!
Chillingly, Newman is discussing her son’s repetitive behaviour and the nearest closest analogy she can think of is the enjoyment her own repeated reading of the world’s most infamous paedophile text brings to her?
This is by no means the only element that rings alarm bells around privacy, disclosure and appropriate parenting. Chapter 13 opens with a discussion of Newman’s other, non-autistic son and his self-diagnosed fears he has a condition of the penis. It continues to discuss pornography he viewed. When he was 7 years old.
Later, she discussed pornography in her autistic son, Gus’s browser history – implying it is hentai, “it appears that someday he may move to Japan”.
Even on her own Facebook, Newman makes disturbing posts (archive). She shares a petition professing support for admitted groper Senator Al Franken. “There is a difference between abuse and a mistake”, says the petition. Indeed there is. According to Time (archive), 7 other women have come forward making 8 accusers in total. That is a pattern of behaviour, not a mistake. It is an extraordinarily generous position she takes towards this accused abuser – one wonders why she is so sympathetic.
It is clear that when the PR machine kicked into gear and the round of glittering puff pieces that heralded this book began, no one had thought it through. In the UK we have case law on sterilisation. It is rarely allowed, but equally important the discussions are anonymised. We do not allow people subject to such invasive procedures to be named and humiliated, to have their dignity and privacy invaded. Here is one example – A Local Authority v K  EWCOP 242.
To Harper Collins it was just another profitable book prospect with all the right buzzwords, until it started not to be. The huge Twitter backlash under the hashtag #BoycottToSiri is only the beginning. The damage to Harper Collins’ reputation and brand is growing as people actually read the book. On Amazon.com, 30% of the reviews have 1-star and many of those reviews essentially call the author an awful child abuser (archive)!
When 30% of people who read your book conclude on the basis of its content that you are a child abuser, you have a branding problem and so does your publisher.
Common themes amongst the complaints are the invasion of privacy along with a perception that Mrs Newman belittles and humiliates her son. The most serious concern though is her belief that non-therapeutic sterilisation is appropriate. Most such applications in the UK are refused on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Some commentators on Twitter complain that reviews have been limited to verified purchasers – but that only makes the 30% remaining that give the book one star more credible. The reviewers are people who have bought and paid for the book.
It is the single issue of sterilisation that most enrages and appals reviewers. The lack of necessity, the condescension and objectification of her son. The lack of concern for his dignity in publishing this book.
In this context it is fair to say that Harper Collins under Brian Murray are properly engaging in human rights abuses and that this book should never have slipped by Harper Collins’ editorial controls. Much the same as many of their customers say –
I contacted Harper Collins, putting the allegations and a draft of this article to them. I contacted Brian Murray, Michael Morrison and Judith Newman. The tracking software I used shows that the email I sent to Mr Morrison was opened over 150 times. Mr Murray also opened and read my email. Even if he was not aware of this issue before – he is now and had several days to respond and investigate. He has had an offer of an extension of time to take legal advice or other action.
Mrs Newman, Mr Morrison and Mr Murray have not denied the allegations.
Specifically I asked the following questions of Harper Collins (and the equivalent to Newman) –
1. Did you inquire about steps taken to ascertain the son’s feelings before publication?
2. Did you consider the effect on Gus Newman’s feelings of the gross breach of his privacy?
3. Did you consider the effect on his future career?
4. Did you consider the impact of disclosing his diagnosis to the world at large on him in adult life?
5. Would you like it if your medical and reproductive health records were released and discussed intimately and judgementally online?
No response. If 4chan or similar dug out details on Murray or Morrison’s personal lives most people would not condone that but really (I suspect), really would not feel much sympathy.
6. Do you consider yourself to be complicit in emotional abuse?
No response. No denial.
7. Harper Collins operates in New York State, which has laws against child abuse. I draw your attention to New York Consolidated Laws, Family Court Act – FCT § 1012 – (e) (ii). This defines as an abused child as (amongst other things) one who has been placed at risk of, “[…] protracted impairment of physical or emotional health”. Do you consider Mrs Newman in breach of this law?
No response. No denial.
8. Will Harper Collins permanently terminate its relationship with Judith Newman and withdraw her books from sale?
No response. No denial.
Furthermore, Judith Newman lives in New York in Manhattan and New York State has laws against emotional abuse which may apply. The Family Court Act provides that (FCT § 1012 (e) (ii)) an abused child is someone whose carer –
“(ii) creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of physical injury to such child by other than accidental means which would be likely to cause death or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ, or”
It seems that there are legitimate concerns here and grounds for an investigation. I would ask readers to politely explain the situation to the proper authorities. Contact details for New York child protective services can be found here and I ask every reader to get in touch.
It is also important that this book be withdrawn from sale. In the first instance before contacting board members, shareholders and other business partners, Judith Newman, Brian Murray and Michael Morrison should be given the opportunity to reconsider. Readers are invited to please politely and courteously write to them to explain any concerns. None of the persons listed objected to my including their public contact details in this article.
Readers are asked to only be respectful, to make no unlawful threats and to break no laws.
Sadly of course, it is quite possible that this initial campaign will not be enough. However, there are further options. Peaceful pickets of bookstores, write-in campaigns to Amazon and other online vendors to remove the book, complaints to shareholders and others are only some possible options. It may be possible to encourage congressional or Parliamentary concern.
For some time there has been a bizarre trend in mental health that most conditions are subjects of the strictest and most sternly enforced confidence but parents of autistic children are allowed to violate their children’s privacy in the most appalling and egregious way. That needs to end and if necessary, Brian Murray and Michael Morrison need to lose their jobs over it.