Being mocked in public because I stammer

A man looking at the camera and smiling

John Carling talks about the abuse he was subject to and how he wishes there was more understanding from the authorities.

I've been enjoying the monthly comic strip from Gareth Cowlin on the STAMMA website, which was shared in a recent email to members. As someone who stammers, I can laugh at myself and see the funny side of things. But I do think there's a thin dividing line between light-hearted humour and abuse. Being abused because I stammer is something I've had to face in my life.

Last year, I wrote a Your Voice article about the psychological issues I've experienced over the years as a result of having a stammer, and the help I'm getting. What I didn't go into in that article was the verbal and even physical abuse I was receiving at the time, which was directed at my stammer. 

Singled out

It all started when I lived in Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire. There was a group of teenagers who were always hanging around nearby, and when I went out and had to walk past them, they started picking on me in the street. They were coming up to me and talking to me, and when they realised I stammered, tried to make out that I was an unusual, weird person because of my speech and my health and psychological issues. This carried on whenever I went out. They started shouting and swearing at me, and following me. When they realised I stammered they laughed at it and mimicked my stammer, mocking me. I'm tall and heavily built, which didn't help as they singled me out as being vulnerable.

I avoided them as much as possible – I sometimes stayed with my parents in Hertford and with friends who lived in Camden, in London, whenever I could. But when I was at home I tried to ignore them but then it got physical. When I stood up for myself they tried to attack me. Then they made allegations about me in public that weren't true. It got to the point where I was frightened to go out. 


I went to the police to sort it out. They were reasonably sympathetic and patient with me at first, with regards to my stammer, and eventually cautioned some of the teenagers involved for harassment. However, the abuse carried on and, not being able to bear it any longer, I persisted in contacting the police to get them to act. They said they wouldn't take it any further, arguing that it would just make matters worse. 

I understand there's humour in stammering, but I wish people would realise that there's a point where it becomes insensitive and hurtful.

I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau, Victim Support and the mental health social services to try and get them involved. I even spoke to my MP, who tried to help. When I emphasised the effects it was having on my stammer and my mental health, the police used that as an excuse to not do anything – they accused me of being overly sensitive and exaggerating the situation to get compensation. I wasn't, I just wanted them to take further action. But they threatened not to respond if I contacted them again.

A call for more understanding

Eventually, after ten years I managed to move to the south coast where things are much more peaceful. I just wanted to get out of the area and thankfully, where I live now there aren't any abusive teenagers. I'm in a much happier place, especially as I can now access the psychological support I mentioned in my previous article.

As I said at the start, I understand there's humour in stammering, but I wish people would realise that there's a point where it becomes insensitive and hurtful. Authorities like the police should realise how serious the situation can become once that thin dividing line is crossed and things start becoming abusive.

I also wish there was more understanding around stammering and health issues – firstly with parents and in schools, teaching children that people who stammer are normal and not 'strange'. Secondly, I wish the authorities understood the effects of stammering and the negative responses to it. And I wish the police did more to uphold my complaints and pick out those who cause trouble before it goes too far and the line gets crossed.

If anyone else is going through the same thing, I'd say don't take no for an answer and don't let the authorities dismiss you because of the way you speak.

If you feel like you have been treated unfairly or poorly because you stammer, contact the STAMMA Advocacy Service. We can help you to challenge it. Fill out the form on our Advocacy Service page to get in touch.

We dictated John's article over the phone — we can do the same for you if you'd like to share your story but find typing or writing difficult. Call us on 020 8983 1003. If not, and you'd like to write an article, see Submit Something For The Site or email

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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