Rape and people with disabilities

December 19, 2012

On Oct. 3 the Connecticut State Supreme Court made the inhuman and sexist decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a man who “had sex” with a woman who has severe cerebral palsy, with the intellectual functional equivalent to a three-year-old and who cannot verbally communicate. The Court held that, because Connecticut statutes define physical incapacity for the purpose of sexual assault as “unconscious or for any other reason…physically unable to communicate unwillingness to an act,” the rapist could not be convicted if there was any chance that the woman could have communicated her lack of consent.

According to the ruling, since the victim was capable of “biting, kicking, scratching, screeching, groaning or gesturing, ” the court ruled that she could have communicated her lack of consent despite her serious mental deficiencies.

This outrageous ruling also states that “we, like the Appellate Court, are not persuaded that the state produced any credible evidence that the victim was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault.”

Lack of physical resistance is not evidence of consent as many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. How can someone with the intellectual equivalent of a three-year-old know that she had to kick or bite to show lack of consent? According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, lack of consent is implicit “if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect.”

Anna Doroghazi, director of public policy and communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, worried that the Court’s interpretation of the law ignored these concerns.

“By implying that the victim in this case should have bitten or kicked her assailant, this ruling effectively holds people with disabilities to a higher standard than the rest of the population when it comes to proving lack of consent in sexual assault cases. Failure to bite an assailant is not the same thing as consenting to sexual activity.”

Beyond all the legal jargon is the human side. Women with disabilities have more than twice the rate of rape and/or sexual assault than women without a disability. They are considered easy targets. It is unconscionable that the courts would make the distinction of saying that this victim could have somehow communicated her lack of consent. A decision like this is sick and dangerous, and encourages those who would take advantage of someone who is disabled.

—Suzanne Rose

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