Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sexual violence against our kids: Why isn't it on everyone's radar?

By Louise Kinross

Yesterday I was outraged to read this story about the case of a 9-year-old California girl with an intellectual disability who was sexually assaulted five times in 2010 by a non-disabled student during an after-school program. The assaults began with her being kicked and hit. Her parents sued the Los Angeles Unified School District for damages to cover the long-term therapy they say their daughter needs to treat her emotional trauma.

Sounds bad huh?

It gets worse. The school district hired a psychologist to say that this girl was less likely to suffer emotional trauma because of her low intelligence.

Dr. Stan Katz said that her mental disability would "protect" her from the degree of emotional stress and depression that a regular student would experience from sexual assault. Further, Katz interviewed the girl in 2012, two years after the assaults, and determined that any emotional problems she had at the time resulted from not having a father in her life and her mental disability, not from the molestations.

According to the story, two experts reviewing Katz's testimony said there's no science to support his assertion that low intelligence minimizes a child's emotional trauma.

"I have never seen developmental disability in a child that age used as a protective factor with respect to how they handle trauma," said University of California San Francisco psychiatrist Dr. Lynn Ponton. "In fact," she added, "developmental disability quite often puts them at risk for this type of trauma."

What was the LA school board, charged with educating and promoting the wellbeing of its students, thinking in hiring Katz and his discriminatory and unfounded arguments?

According to a 2012 review by the United Nations World Health Organization, children with intellectual disabilities (and mental illness) are 4.6 times more likely to be sexually abused than their non-disabled peers.

Instead of raising awareness of this heightened vulnerability, and taking steps to protect students, the LA board, through its psychologist, appears to be rationalizing the high rate of abuse of this population: 'They don't feel pain the way other kids do' is the message being sent.

Remember that archaic medical belief that infants and children don't experience pain the way adults do? The idea is being trotted out again here, but in relation to students with intellectual disability.

According to the girl's attorney, the jury was "offended" and "disgusted" with Katz's line of reasoning. They awarded the girl $1.4 million in damages. The LA board attorney had argued that she needed $10,000 to $12,500 for therapy.

In related news this week, this Daily Beast piece suggests that although women with disabilities are at greatest risk of sexual violence, they are not welcomed by feminists working against violence.

"When Stephanie Woodward blogged about #YesAllWomen, she was excited to join the movement and share her own life experiences as a woman with a disability," writes Elizabeth Heideman. "She never expected her post to spawn hostile messages from activists scolding Woodward for trying to 'detract from the real issue' and instead make it about disability."

"Do women with disabilities not count as women?" Woodward is later quoted asking.

And finally, this is an investigative piece into sexual assaults by staff against clients of one of Australia's biggest disability service providers. Disabled clients and former staff "tell how complaints were ignored and whistleblowers targeted, their warnings not acted upon. As a result, two men employed by the organization, and now allegedly a third, went on to rape and sexually abuse disabled clients."

It hurts to connect the dots, doesn't it?


Such a tough topic to tackle, but I'm glad BLOOM is addressing this reality.