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Rape trial told woman with Down syndrome didn't have capacity to consent to sex

Central Criminal Court
Central Criminal Court

A woman with Down syndrome who was allegedly raped in Dublin two years ago did not have the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse a trial has heard.

A 34 year old man is accused of luring the woman back to his house and raping her after she became separated from her mother on the street.

The man admits there was some sexual contact with the woman but maintains that it was consensual and that he didn't know she was mentally impaired.

He has pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to rape, sexual assault and having sex with a mentally impaired person at his Dublin home on June 12, 2013.

The trial has heard that it is an offence to have sex with a person with a mental impairment to the degree that they can't live independently or protect themselves from serious exploitation.

Today Fergal Rooney, a psychologist specialising in disability and sexual issues, said that he assessed the woman and judged her as not having the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse.

He told Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, that the woman had a trusting perspective of others because life hadn't taught her to be cautious or suspicious of others.

He said it was unlikely she would question or doubt the instructions of strangers and that she would not be able to advocate for her own needs or protect herself against serious exploitation. He also said she did not have the capacity to live independently.

Regarding her knowledge of sexual matters, Mr Rooney said she had a significant deficit in knowledge towards a wide range of sexual issues. He said she had a naïve and romanticised view of sex which indicated a lack of insight.

Mr Rooney said she did not understand the consequences of sex such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. He added that she was also unable to determine the correct response to sexually ambiguous situations.

The witness agreed with defence counsel Padraig Dwyer SC that people with intellectual disabilities had sexual desires like everyone else and that they had a right to express those desires. He said this applied to people with Down syndrome.

He agreed there was “a grey area in the law” regarding the issue and that there was no national policy to address it. However he said such matters were best addressed on an individual basis.

Counsel asked if the witness could rule out the woman having a consensual sexual relationship in the future.

Mr Rooney said that situations could change and that it would be inappropriate for him to rule out such a relationship.

Counsel also asked Mr Rooney if Down syndrome meant the woman was incapable of lying. Mr Rooney replied that everyone was capable of lying but that he believed the woman “was approaching this in an upfront and honest manner”.

The trial continues on Monday before Mr Justice Tony Hunt and a jury of six men and six women.