Online safety: Amputee Devotees, Disability Trolls and Fakers
Taking the lid off the world of amputee devotees, fakers and disability trolls and what you can do to protect yourself
By Charlotte Fielder, MBE, Director EDRIC
Warning: Strong Language
If you had told the sixteen year old me that there were men (and they are mostly men) who found me sexually attractive because of my missing hand then I think I would have been totally dumbfounded. At sixteen I was convinced that most people were repulsed by the sight of my stump. I bought clothes with large pockets and I kept my stump hidden. I don't think I would have coped well with the knowledge that some men would find my stump desirable and a 'thing of beauty'.
And I didn't really consider that notion until 2009 when I became fully aware of amputee devotees - individuals that express a strong sexual interest in congenital or traumatic amputees and other limb difference.
In the autumn of 2009 I joined Facebook to promote my book 'Shared Experiences - The experience of having and parenting children with upper limb deficiencies. I saw the potential to connect with limb difference groups across the world and tell them about the book. I wanted to sell as many copies as possible, so that parents could hear each others' stories and that Reach www.reach.org.uk the charity I wrote if for could raise funds from its sale.
To accompany the publication I posted some photos of myself showing that I also have a limb difference, because I wanted would-be readers to see I was talking from a position of personal knowledge. Over several months my husband took a range of photos of me proudly displaying my stump. I was pleased with these photos as they said 'Here I am and I'm happy with what I look like'. My sixteen year old self would have been amazed!
I was really happy with the way 'Shared Experiences' was taking off and I was contacted by parents of limb different children around the world telling me about their experiences and their thoughts on their children's limb difference. I was also contacted by those with their own limb difference and I accepted all these people as Facebook friends because we had a common bond.
However, in among these numerous friend requests were those who didn't want to connect with me to discuss limb difference, in fact far from it. They just wanted my photos and that's how I became aware of devotees. I was tipped off by a Paralympics athlete who warned me that photos of me were appearing on devotee websites. My first reaction was one of disbelief and my initial inclination was to close my Facebook account and withdraw from using social media.
I then became very cross that I had put myself in this situation and I checked out my growing friends list. And when I examined some more closely I discovered I had unwisely accepted friendship requests from about a dozen men who I now know were devotees. I set about 'unfriending' them.
However I was effectively 'shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted' because these men had already run amok among my Facebook albums downloading and saving my photos and then someone posted a number of them on devotee websites.
And that's when it totally dawned upon me that these interactions had exposed me to a side of life I didn't even know existed and that is the 'secret world of a devotee' and that devotees will do anything to start up relationships with women with limb difference and build up their collections of photos.
Of course I realise now how naïve I was and I should have done more to protect myself. However hindsight is such a wonderful gift and how many of us are good at protecting ourselves from unknown threats?
So after the feelings of shock and anger passed I realised I had a stark choice either to remove myself from online activities or use my experiences to warn others about the hidden dangers. I chose to raise awareness and I started contacting other Facebook users who had devotees in their 'friends' lists. Some were pleased to be told and others less so. I soon realised that it's not a black and white subject matter, as there are many limb different women who are happy to interact with devotees and actively encourage it.
At this point I must state my case very clearly. It is not for me to judge what others choose to do and who they wish to do it with it. I know that some limb different people knowingly and a happily conduct relationships with devotees. There are also models who knowingly and happily have very sexy photos taken in the knowledge that these photos are specifically for the devotee market. If that's what they want to do then fine: 'flash your sexy stump and then bank the big bucks'.
However, I'm aware that most limb different people do not wish to be objectified in this way and find the whole devotee scene rather creepy and even menacing.
The devotee scene doesn't do it for me and when I read devotees writing such lines as 'I want to rub my c*ck against your stump' it makes me want to 'throw up' rather than roll my sleeve up.
I carried on warning Facebook users and ruffling a few feathers as I went. There were a few who told me that I was encouraging devotees by even mentioning the topic and if I carried on telling people about it then the idea would gain popularity and become mainstream!
I found this quite bizarre because your sexuality and your sexual preferences are mapped out very early in life and the idea that I could encourage anyone to develop a hitherto to unknown sexual preference is, I think, very unlikely.
What I soon came to realise was that people didn't actually like me talking about it and would prefer it, if I could make the subject go away by not mentioning it. Too late! This age old sexual preference was gaining increasing exposure, not through me, but by the power and exponential growth of the internet,
I soon learned how much when I gave a radio interview in 2011 for a BBC local radio station. The BBC issued a press release afterwards and parts of that interview appeared on devotee websites later that night, with some comments from devotees who were affronted by my comments. One even said words to the effect, 'But for men like us, women like her wouldn't get dates'. At first I was angry at his arrogance, but after a while, I laughed at the ridiculousness of his assertion because most of my limb different friends are in relationships and not with devotees!
So I feel I have a responsibility to challenge devotees' proclamations that they are the only people who can truly love the limb different, because it's simply not true and it's a myth they perpetuate to justify their actions. Maybe I'm at the age now where I could be best described as 'formidable old boot' because I'm certainly not going to be put off warning those who had no idea about devotees and I carry on regardless doing just that.
Now fast forward to 2011 and I was contacted by my now friend Geoff Adams Spink who is a Thalidomider and chairman of EDRIC. He wanted to talk to me about EDRIC and check out if I was interested in participating in their work. Fast forward even further and in August 2012 I was appointed to the board of EDRIC with responsibilities for online safety. Well, who better than someone who had their limited number of fingers burned!
So now I've told you about myself and how I became aware of devotees - in the next article, I will tell you a little more about devotees and their behaviours so you are better informed than I was, but also so you can start to take steps to protect yourself.
If you have a limb difference yourself or an affected family member and would like to comment on this article, please visit our secure and moderated RareConnect forum.
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