In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held an advisory panel hearing on a potential proposed ban of aversive conditioning devices used for contingent electric shock — the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, is the only known institution to currently use such devices for behavioral modification. Jennifer Msumba, a biracial autistic survivor of the JRC who spent several years in that institution, gave testimony via video. This is the transcript of that testimony taken from the official hearing transcript.
MS. MSUMBA: Hi. My name is Jennifer Msumba, and I wanted to make this video as my opportunity to express what happened to me when I was at the Judge Rotenberg Center, in regards to the GEDs and how it affected me. I was there from the year 2002 — March 2002 until April in 2009.
When I would get a GED, I would get — most of the times I would get a very bad muscle cramp that would last me for one to two days. I would get burn marks on my skin. They like to call them small, raised bumps. They’re burn marks. It’s electricity going into your skin, and it’s very itchy and it stings afterwards, and you have these circular marks where you got the GED. I also at one time was given several GEDs in one leg in a row, and I had a terrible pain shoot all the way through to my foot. And after that, I had no sensation in my skin on the lower half of my left leg. And for about a year, if I would touch my skin, I couldn’t even feel anything that touched my skin, from that.
Also the GEDs will, what they call, misfire a lot. That happened to me in double digits, where it would go off by itself maybe if it got wet. One time I got caught in the rain. Other times, if they give a GED to someone else nearby and that device is too similar to yours, it can set yours off. Then I had times when the staff made mistakes and mixed up whose device they’re using. So they’re meaning to give a GED to another student, and they give it to you. I’ve seen some people’s just go off and keep going off and going off over and over, and staff would literally to have rip open the bag and pull out all the wires to get it to stop. These are things that you were getting shocked for no reason at all, not even for behavior. It’s an accident, and it happens all the time.
It’s not safe. It doesn’t feel safe. I ended up having nightmares weekly, if not nightly — at least once a week — about JRC and the GEDs, about being on the GEDs. In these nightmares I’m getting shocked. During the day, if I hear certain noises, like the Velcro they use to keep them closed, I freeze. I feel like it’s about to happen to me. Or if I’m having a hard time, I start to think I’m there again and that I’m going to get shocked for it. I’ve been to dozens of horrible places, hospitals, residential schools — and I have never once had a nightmare about any of them.