UK Court: Ban on Sex For Autistic Woman With Intellectual Disabilities

A recent decision by a British court toban an autistic woman with intellectual disabilities from having sex raises many issues that parents of autistic children and teenagers would perhaps not rather address but need to be considered.

A Court of Protection ruled that a 29-year-old women describing as having “mild learning disabilities and atypical autism” does not “have the mental capacity to engage in sexual relations, on the basis that she does not understand the implications and cannot effectively deploy the information she has understood into her decisions” (the judgment is here as a PDF).

The woman, referred to as H, is described as having a “history of a very early and very deep degree of sexualisation”; she had “engaged in sexual behavior” that she had not consented to. In 2003, a man was convicted of raping her. H’s disabilities were known to authorities since she was a child, as she was listed on the child protection register; the local authority also had records about her as an adult. After seeking “refuge in the home of a man called R who reported Hs sexual activities, vulnerability and disinhibition to the authorities” in 2009, H was hospitalized until 2011, during which attempts were made to “educate her and ascertain her understanding of sexual relations.” But in December of 2011, H was was placed under 1:1 supervision and was then “not free to leave her accommodation on any other basis, even to attend her part-time employment.”

The judge who presided over the decision to ban H from having sex was “reluctant to conclude a lack of capacity” in her, but found that her capacity to “use and weigh” information about sexual behavior and its consequences was such that the court should still “guard” and “restrict” these in her “best interests.” The judge did note that the decision, which indeed amounts to a “deprivation of liberty,” was very difficult to make and that “improvement and maturation” could occur for H and “that the matter should be kept under review.”

My son will turn 15 in the middle of May: In six short years he will be a legal adult and, due to the extent of his cognitive disabilities, we have begun to take steps to declare guardianship of him when he turns 18; as part of this, we will have to have him declared mentally incompetent and unable to make financial and other decisions for himself. We are certainly starting to plan to make sure that Charlie always has, if not 1:1 supervision, some sort of care worker with him at all times. Sex education is addressed for Charlie primarily in terms of “safety,” in regard to appropriate behavior in public (in public restrooms in particular). Due to the extent of Charlie’s disabilities, it is highly unlikely that he would ever be unaccompanied in public but, like it or not, we have to factor in all possibilities.

The court decision about H does not mention family members or guardians. Her intellectual disabilities, and the fact that she had been raped in 2003, suggest that some sorts of protection and/or intervention could have been provided for her earlier. Had her education as a child included sex education? H’s case reminds me that parents of children of all ages with disabilities need to address these issues honestly and frankly, in order to best care for those we love while respecting their dignity.

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Sharon O'malley
Sharon O'malley4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Berny P.
Berny p4 years ago

Tough call............BUT i AGREE WITH THE COURT

Louise Peacock
Louise Peacock4 years ago

Wow, this is a really difficult call. Clearly if she is disabled to the point of not understanding the implications of sex, then there really isn't much choice. However, it does seem pretty heavy handed to stop her from leaving her home - as someone said - criminals have more freedom. Is this a case of fear of her getting pregnant? Because she would be unable to care for a child? So instead of all these restrictions, what about sterilization? (You lot will be offended at this idea, but it is rooted in the desire for this person to have some other freedoms.)

Most of the people who work with me in the summer are either autistic or suffer from asbergers, I notice that all of them are very smart, but tend to live in their own little world, unaffected by what happens in our world. They don't seem to understand the implications of their actions.

Ruth P.
Ruth P4 years ago

Horrifying that they would forbid her from leaving her home, even with her carer. Convicted criminals often have more freedom.

Arild Warud
Arild Warud4 years ago

Damned if you do,damned if you don't.

Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Another NT decision impacting the life of an AT woman. However, if I'm reading this article correctly, it's not that she's's that she's intellectually challenged to the point of not really being able to legally consent. I don't know how this, any of this, is going to end well.

KS Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

James Campbell
James Campbell4 years ago

This is one aspect of my job that I hate. Part of my professional responsibility is to advise judges such as the one in this case. My natural inclination is to side with those who see this as “blaming the victim” and others who advocate absolute freedom for people with special needs. I would back the rights of people with special needs to have sex, marry and have (and keep) children, even if they needed help along the way. However, in the real world, many of these individuals, male as well as female are very vulnerable. I would prefer to lock up the monsters who prey on them so their potential victims could be free. One guide is what would be the best way to protect this person and for how long do we need to do so? My hope for this woman is that with help, she will develop a sense of what could be harmful and with careful monitoring (not so much of her, but potential threat) she can then live her life as she wishes.

James Campbell
James Campbell4 years ago

melanie b.”One poster said most autistic people are of normal or above-normal intelligence- that's not true”

I agree, however ........

“they may be very skilled at a few things, but test well below normal in other areas. They also typically experience difficulty using language”.

One aspect of my work involves diagnosing ASD. Autism is the best known of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) and is not just one condition. It is a range (or spectrum) of different manifestations with several features in-common. Approximately 20 % of autistic individuals have average or superior intelligence. Some High functioning (HF) individuals are amongst the most gifted in our species. The most withdrawn individuals with ASD do present as having a disconnection from other people and events. In other words, they live in a world of their own. Again, this is not necessarily a sign of severe learning difficulties. It takes a detailed assessment to define where the individual’s strengths and difficulties lie rather than a simple ASD = learning difficulties.

Mel M.
Past Member 4 years ago