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J R Soc Med. 2001 July; 94(7): 371–372.
PMCID: PMC1281622

Rape in a learning-disabled woman

Jean O'Hara and Hemmie Martin report a multi-agency approach to a learning-disabled woman who had been raped (May 2001 JRSM, pp. 245-6). I noted that the case did not go to court. I wonder if the prosecution could have gone ahead under the 1956 Sexual Offences Act? This states it is an offence for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman who is defective. The term defective is now obsolete, but has the same definition as severe mental impairment under the 1983 Mental Health Act, without the need to show abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct. In this case there seems to have been ample forensic evidence that sexual intercourse had occurred and DNA evidence to back up the client's testimony naming the man concerned. There is an assumption within this Act that the woman concerned cannot competently consent, which makes the intercourse consequently unlawful.

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