According to Southern California Public Radio (KPCC 89.3FM), Dr. Stan Katz, acting as an expert witness for the Los Angeles Unified School District in a 2013 trial to determine the amount of damages due to a student who had been repeatedly sexually assaulted, suggested that the victim’s low IQ “acts as a protective factor.” The logic being that because of her disability, victim who was 9 years old when assaulted should receive less compensation.
The attorney for the girl who was assaulted, David Ring, said that the jury was offended by the “protective factor” comment and responded by awarding the victim $1.4 million in damages instead of the $10,000 – $12,500 that the district had requested. The news account also indicates that other experts repudiated the “protective factor” argument.
I am thankful for the jury’s good sense and for the experts who repudiated that offensive argument.
Of course, I wasn’t at the the trial and I didn’t hear Dr. Katz’s testimony. Perhaps his testimony was misrepresented. If he actually has any expertise in intellectual disability and the effects of trauma, I am sure he must be familiar with the scientific research that shows the exact opposite of what he is reported to have said. Of course, this is not the place for a literature review. But there are numerous studies on factors that promote psychological resilience to trauma and over and over and over again IQ is identified as a factor promoting resilience. In addition, some peer-reviewed, scientific studies that specifically look at the relationship between IQ and post-traumatic stress. For example,
Breslau, N., Chen, Q., & Luo, Z. (2013). The role of intelligence in posttraumatic stress disorder: does it vary by trauma severity? PLoS [Public Library of Science]One, 8(6), e65391.
Orr, S. P., Lasko, N. B., Macklin, M. L., Pineles, S. L., Chang, Y., & Pitman, R. K. (2012). Predicting post-trauma stress symptoms from pre-trauma psychophysiologic reactivity, personality traits and measures of psychopathology. Biol Mood Anxiety Disord, 2(1), 8.
Hart, J., Jr., Kimbrell, T., Fauver, P., Cherry, B. J., Pitcock, J., Booe, L. Q., et al. (2008). Cognitive dysfunctions associated with PTSD: evidence from World War II prisoners of war. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci, 20(3), 309-316.
These studies are among those that demonstrate higher IQ is a protective factor and lower IQ is a risk factor for prolonged emotional efefcts. I have not seen a single peer-reviewed scientific study that found the opposite. Hart and colleagues for example found “Higher IQ appears to protect individuals who undergo a traumatic experience from developing long-term PTSD”
I hope that Dr. Katz and the Los Angeles Unified School District did not actually intend to add insult to injury to all victims of violence with disabilities. If they are not aware of the truth, they should make it their business to learn about it. If they have been misrepresented in some way in this news account, they should correct it. If they were aware of what the scientific literature actually says and actually voiced this statement in direct contradiction to it, they need to account for their behavior.
These false beliefs help offenders rationalize violence against vulnerable victims. They should not be allowed to persist when they have been clearly demonstrated to be false.