Former television presenter and accused serial sexual harasser Don Burke has been castigated for linking the astounding number of allegations made against him to his self-diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
During his interview with Tracy Grimshaw on last night’s A Current Affair, Burke addressed his long alleged history of sexual misconduct and the bullying of staff by mentioning his so-called “genetic failings.”
“I haven’t been medically diagnosed, but I’ve worked it out that that’s what I’ve got, and what it is – and it’s a terrible failing,” Burke said.
I can look in a lens, I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye. It’s a typical thing.
And I miss all their body language and, you know, the subtle signs people give to you, like ‘back off, that’s enough’. I don’t see that.
I suffer from a terrible problem with that. Of not seeing. And no-one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.
That statement has been swiftly rebuked by Australian autism advocacy groups, who have been quick to point out that having traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome – including difficulties processing social cues – does not make someone a sexual harasser.
On Twitter, Autism Awareness Australia said it is “sickened tonight by Don Burke’s excuse of undiagnosed Aspergers as a reason for his appalling behaviour,” asking “what kind of human sinks this low?”
In a subsequent interview with Melbourne radio station 3AW, Autism Awareness Australia’s CEO Nicole Rogerson went further, saying it was highly unlikely that Burke, who fashioned a decades-long media career on his ability to communicate, would have Asperger’s Syndrome.
Autism West, a service provider specialising in social groups for West Australians on the autism spectrum, also said “we must reiterate that Don Burke & his reported behaviour does not represent the voice of the Autism/Asperger’s community.”
Individuals living with Asperger’s and its related conditions have also slammed Burke’s claims. Lauded performer Hannah Gadsby said her Asperger’s diagnosis does not preclude her from assessing Burke’s character:
I have Aspergers. I can assure you that I don’t need to make eye contact with #donburke to know he is bad humanity.
— Hannah Gadsby (@Hannahgadsby) November 27, 2017
While others with Asperger’s, and their families, have asserted they definitely recognise inappropriate behaviour:
As a person with Aspergers and autism I feel ashamed by Don Burke. The a***hole deserves a prison sentence!
— Heather (@impossible_cut) November 27, 2017
Don Burke used autism as an excuse?
My 19yo autistic son has enough stigma to deal with, you sack of flaming shit.
— A Good Karen (@karensmartie) November 27, 2017
ABC News Breakfast presenter Virginia Trioli also pointed out that young people with Asperger’s Disorder could actually be more susceptible to sexual abuse, meaning that associating the disorder with sexual offending could distract from vulnerable victims.
A 2014 study also found that adults with an autism spectrum disorder were “between two and three times more likely to experience sexual contact victimization, sexual coercion victimization, and rape than comparison group.”
But instead of sticking to regular denials, Burke chose to assign blame for his alleged actions to his self-diagnosed disorder, throwing those who aren’t accused sexual offenders under the proverbial bus.
It also echoes the statement Kevin Spacey gave after he was accused of making a sexually aggressive move on an actor when he was only 14, in which Spacey instead pivoted to a discussion of his sexuality.
You can read more about Burke’s rebuttal HERE.
This article discusses sexual assault & harassment. If you would like to talk to a counsellor about rape, sexual assault or domestic violence, give the people over at 1800 RESPECT a call on 1800 737 732.