A recent CNN article was published about a woman with Down syndrome, we will call her Jane, who was raped three times by a man in her own home. There are many problems with the following story. How judges handle rape cases, what men constitute as rape, and how cases involving people with disabilities are handled in court. Most of these issues have been mentioned in previous blogs (Yourknightinshiningtutu also brings up another interesting idea about rape that everyone should read!) but I want to focus especially on mental disabilities and the outrageousness of this court proceeding. Shockingly, the reason the judge decided to overturn this case was apparently because of the woman’s reaction, thereby making her to blame for this horrible incident…
Before I go into the unfortunate details about the results of this case, let me give you the story. A few years ago, in October of 2010, Jeffrey Dumas was with his friends in the home of a 24 year old woman with Down syndrome. “Jane” was watching the house while her mother was out of town and according to her, Mr. Dumas raped her three times that night and the next day. She made no attempt to cry for help until the next day even though there were other adults in the home at the time. Mr. Dumas was convicted of three counts of rape and proclaimed guilty by the jury. Recently however, a judge overturned the jury’s conviction and demanded a new trial where he announced that the woman “didn’t act like a victim and the man didn’t act like a rapist.” The judge clearly does not understand Down syndrome and claims that Jane should have acted a certain way in order for her “rape” story to be counted as rape.
I think the article stated it very well when it said “Jane’s troubling case reveals the intersections between rape culture and the way we strip agency from people with disabilities.” Having discussed rape before in previous blogs and its many aspects revolving around gender issues it is important to also look at ability and how that intertwines. When looking at women with disabilities, the rate of sexual assaults is actually much higher. Those with intellectual disabilities, even those that function at higher levels and have better communication skills, are still vulnerable. They are often not sure of what is right or wrong in regards to sexual advances and do not know if they can say no or not.
Having a brother with autism, I am especially concerned with this verdict and very upset at this judge’s orders. While men might not be quite as likely to get sexually assaulted, they are still at risk and it is sad that this judge has such little knowledge about intellectual disabilities. Down syndrome could have caused Jane to act in a less than “typical” manner as that of another rape victim and should not be held against her in court nor should it affect the sentence of her rapist. Jane and others with intellectual disabilities “rarely receive sexual education or are provided assertiveness training. Given this context, one might well invoke Down syndrome to explain the delay between the assault and the complaint.”
Whether or not she cried out in pain or simply spoke up quietly about the incident should not matter. She was raped. Period. There are no if, ands, or buts to the situation.
“Do not focus on Jane because she is a woman with Down syndrome. Focus on Jane because she is a woman who says that she was raped. Focus on Jane because she’s joined the ranks of other women, women of all races, classes, sexual orientations, and levels of ability who have said that they were raped and then had their testimony disregarded by a judge on the basis of not acting enough like a victim.”
Hopefully the justice system in the future will take into consideration that there are many different ways to respond to being raped, especially if you have an intellectual disability. There is no definition that states you have to scream and yell in order to be a rape victim and judges should make decisions with that in mind!
What do you think of this case? Do reactions matter when looking at rape cases?