If you had told me 10 years ago, before I had Facebook, that there were men (and they are mostly men) who found me sexually attractive because of my missing limbs then I think I would have been totally dumbfounded. Back then, I was convinced that most people were repulsed by the sight of my stumps. I would wear long pants to keep my prostheses hidden. I don’t think I would have coped well with the knowledge that some men would find my stumps desirable and a “thing of beauty”.
And I didn’t really consider this notion until 2008, when I became fully aware of amputee “devotees” – the term given to individuals that express a strong sexual interest in congenital or traumatic amputees and others with limb differences. I joined FB in 2008. At the beginning, it was to stay in touch with my families and friends. Eventually, I saw the potential to connect with limb difference groups across the world. Like a normal Facebook user, I posted photos of myself showing that I have some limb difference. Being part of those amputee groups was great, because it reminded me that I am not the only one with limb differences. Group members would post questions, discuss ideas and just share amputee stuff.
Because of this, I began to receive numerous friend requests from other amputees and I was gladly accepting them. However, 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 an amputee friend who warned me that my photos were appearing on devotee websites – something I didn’t even know existed. Yikes! My initial inclination was one of disbelief and to close my Facebook account and withdraw from using social media.
I then became angry with myself that I had put myself in this situation. I immediately investigated my growing FB friends list. 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.
And that’s when it totally dawned on me that these interactions had exposed me to a side of life I didn’t even know existed – the “secret world of a devotee”. Devotees will do anything to start up relationships with women with limb differences and build up their collections of photos. Of course I realize 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?
Ten years later and I am much smarter, but I still get “unique” friend requests messages whether it’s on FB or Instagram. One thing I learned is that a key idea to identifying who is a threat is if they ask for photos or personal information you have offered, or they offer you something such as money or a gift in exchange for something they want. They may also ask you to meet up in the way that doesn’t feel comfortable to you. Before you accept any social media requests from individuals you don’t know, do some digging. You’ll probably learn that most requests are harmless, but you’ll be protecting yourself from those that aren’t.
I share this information not to scare anyone, but to educate and inform you that this issue exists. Not all devotees are bad, but as with any other unique group of people with obsessions, they can potentially become a threat. We as a community need to work together to protect each other from these potential risks. If you know of someone who might be a danger, speak up and share with others.