Autism: balancing capacity and consentNachelle Geronimo
Autism: balancing capacity and consent.
Glynis Murphy of the Tizard Centre at the University of Kent and others write of their concern about a recent ruling by the court of protection.
‘Surely no one has a fundamental right to sex, given that it involves another person too?’ Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA
We were astonished at your report (3 October) that the court of protection has found that a man with autism has a “fundamental right to sex”, even though he does not understand the issue of consent.
Surely no one has a fundamental right to sex, given that it involves another person too? Considering this man, referred to as JB, to have a right to sex seems to put him at risk of committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Even more at risk are the women (or men) with whom he has sex – surely the court should not be implying that it is OK for him to be careless about that person’s consent?
This ruling seems to be reinforcing the idea of male entitlement to sex, a frequent problem among sex offenders, in our experience. You report that the judge said insisting that JB understands the issue of consent before being allowed to pursue sexual relationships would be discrimination because it would “impose on him a burden which a capacitous individual may not share”. How can this be true? Capacitous individuals also share that burden – they need to understand consent too.
The judge also considered the man was “entitled to make the same mistakes which all human beings can, and do, make in the course of a lifetime”. But if one or more of such “mistakes” involves the rape of a woman (or man), should we just consider that to be a price worth paying for this man to have his rights?
We run an internationally recognised programme designed to help men with autism and/or learning disabilities and sexually harmful behaviour not to reoffend. We spend considerable time explaining issues of consent to the men. A more appropriate ruling would surely have proposed the need for specialist sex and relationship education.
Glynis Murphy Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Michelle McCarthy Tizard Centre, Peter Langdon University of Warwick, Aida Malovic Canterbury Christchurch University, Clare Melvin Tizard Centre, Mark Brown Tizard Centre
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