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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A 9 Year Old Girl with a Disability Was Assaulted: Her Disability Awarded her a "Protective Factor"

It is all to easy to locate horrific news stories about the abuse of people with a disability. A simple google search will yield a plethora of stories. I read stories every day about people with a disability that have been killed by strangers or family. Sexual assaults are commonplace for women with a disability. There is a cavalcade of stories that are by and large used as fillers. Ho hum yet another story about the violation of the civil rights of people with a disability.  I sometimes think I am impervious to such news. For better or worse I am far from impervious. Last night it was obvious that I care deeply. I slept little because I read about a disturbing story about a cognitively disabled 9 year old girl who was sexually assaulted last year.  During the trial Stan Katz provided expert testimony that the 9 year old girl's low IQ (between 64 and 70) provided a "protective factor" that could reduce the emotional distress she experienced as a result of being sexually assaulted.  A "protective factor"? Yes, my heart sinks to a new low.

Here is the background. The sexual assaults took place in 2010. The girl in question was not assaulted once but rather multiple times by a boy at her school. The abuse took place at various location at the girl's school. Her family sued LAUSD arguing that the girl needed to be financially compensated because she would require long term therapy to cope with the emotional trauma. Katz testified that any problem the girl in question experienced had nothing to do with being sexually molested but rather the result of not having her father in her life and her mental disability. Katz opined that the girl's "mental disability" acted as a protective factor. He stated "There's a relationship between intelligence and depression. What happens is the more you think about things, you can ruminate, you can focus on things, you can look at the complexities of the matter and become more depressed. The girl's lawyer in response to this assessment asked "So because she may be less intelligent than a general education student, she's going to suffer less depression because of it?" Katz reply was "Very possible, yes".

I have never heard of cognitive disability as a "protective factor". If anything a profound cognitive disability creates a high risk factor for physical and sexual assault. The idea a cognitive disability is a "protective factor" is offensive. It has no basis in reality. Evidently the jury felt the same way. Expected to receive $10,000 to $12,500 the jury instead awarded $1.4 million.

Who is Stan Katz? Based on what I have read on line Katz is a small time celebrity. He has appeared on several reality television programs. Katz has appeared on a show "It's Complicated" with Denise Richards. Most of his time appears to be spent as an expert witness or mediator in child custody disputes. Not surprisingly the most information I could locate was provided by a television news service. Apparently Katz is by trade a forensic psychologist with degrees from Boston University and UCLA. Katz has 25 years of clinical practice in Beverly Hills.

How this man gets in the news makes me shake my head in disgust. How stories such as this all too often end up as a news filler is a human rights tragedy no one seems to care about. But some people do care. I do. I know Dave Hingsburger cares. On his blog, Rolling Around in My Head, he asks the most important question no one asked:

While many people have written, powerfully, about the implications of his testimony and the outrageous contention that people with disabilities don't experience real trauma and emotional pain. I am astounded that this guy even got to testify at all. The acceptance of the question. "Do people with intellectual disabilities experience pain and trauma" or more bluntly, "Would a 9 year old girl, with an intellectual disability, who is repeatedly sexually assaulted, against her will and without her consent, by a non-disabled peer be able to experience trauma" is the real outrage. Link:

Outraged I am. I have seen this story appear online at Jezebel and Raw Story, and a few local LA news outlets. The national papers remain uninterested.  I suspect this story will get no traction or attention outside of LA and disability related news services. This is the ultimate insult and empowers people to accept the status quo culturally. We do not value people with a  disability. They are different. They do not even feel what others, typical others, feel.  I urge you to read what Dave Hingsburger has written.  He has the experience I do not have. What we share is our outrage. What this story also does is reinforce my gut feeling that when it comes to disability all the wrong lessons are being taught in our secondary schools. Resource rooms and separate and "special" transportation is good and dandy. Point out that this is a form of segregation and one is instantly labeled a problem. I know this because I was characterized as such when my son was in secondary school. I would suggest the root cause of the prejudice I encounter and this terrible story of sexual assault are one in the same. People with a disability are different. They are the feared other. Indeed, the fear factor is significant. Disability is the one minority group you can join by taking a bad step or being involved in a  car crash or a myriad other cases of "bad luck". What people do not get is that disability is part of life, a variable that we humans have been adapting to for centuries. All people with a disability can feel as much as a typical bipedal human being. And that includes people with the most profound cognitive deficits. Thus I utterly and forcefully reject the idea that human beings must reach certain thresholds to be declared human. It may help Katz and others to think that a 9 year old girl with a low IQ has a "protective factor" but this sort of thinking is wrong. Horribly wrong. It has no foundation in reality. It is in fact dehumanizing in the extreme. It dismisses the fact a 9 year old girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted. Instead of dismissing this assault it should have led to immediate and profound social and structural changes in our educational system.  That is the only logical response. I am reminded of the classic film When Bill Broke his Head. My favorite line in the documentary was "Not a good day for the home team". Not a good day here. I weep for a 9 year old girl I have never met.


Unknown said...

Holy crap. I can't believe the school district even tried to use this as a defense. Thank goodness the jury made the right call.

Anonymous said...

Everything I want to write comes out so angry it's incoherent. Defense attorneys with no shame, who will hire whatever hired gun will support their case, even if he has to make bigoted false statements. So-called 'expert' witnesses who clearly have no earthly idea. This guy could be one of the people who thinks all cognitively impaired people should be locked up.

Just sign me "Sputtering"

Nessie Siler said...

I'm with Second Summit. Now to the possibly difficult work of getting them to pay up. Or will they have the option to appeal until the cows come home?

Jersey Guy said...

Why didn't he just come right out and say the girl was too stupid to mind being molested? That was the implication, so why not call a spade a a spade?
What an assbasket. I never heard of this guy before but I hate him.

william Peace said...

Jersey guy, Hate is a negative emotion that requires great expenditures of energy. The man in question is a symptom of a much larger problem: people with profound cognitive issues are not perceived as fully human. This thought is scary and should keep people up at night.