Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dementia and Consent: Husband Accused of Raping Wife Who Has Alzheimer's

I caution you not to rush to form an opinion about the issue raised by this case of a man accused of raping his wife who has Alzheimer's and was deemed unable to provide consent.  Think about what comes up for you as you consider this case.
"A former state lawmaker accused of raping his wife in a nursing home is forcing an Iowa court to confront a little-discussed question of aging: When is a person suffering from dementia unable to consent to sex?
The case centers on Henry and Donna Lou Rayhons, both 78, who got married seven years ago in a union that seemed to offer a second chance at love for the two, who had both been widowed. But their domestic routine of church activities and political functions unraveled as Donna’s health began to fail.
Last year, Donna Lou Rayhons was moved into a nursing home because she was suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A family conflict developed over how to care for her, culminating in a meeting in which the nursing home staff told her husband that his wife was no longer mentally capable of legally consenting to have sex.
State prosecutors say Henry Rayhons – then a long-serving Republican state representative – ignored that message. On Wednesday, he will stand trial for sexually assaulting his wife, who died in August. The charges were filed days after she died.
Many older couples experience the hardships of illness, mental decline and living apart, but what happened with the Rayhons has little precedent. Experts could not recall another rape case that happened because a previously consenting spouse could no longer legally acquiesce....
When the charges were first filed, Henry Rayhons’ family released a statement.
'Donna’s location did not change Dad’s love for Donna nor her love for him. It did not change their marriage relationship. And so he continued to have contact with his spouse in the nursing home; who among us would not,” read the statement, which went on to call the charges “illogical and unnatural.'
The crux of the case is the question of Donna Lou Rayhons’ ability to consent. Iowa law defines an act as sexual abuse in the third degree if the two parties are not living together as husband and wife and if one person “is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent...”
Here are some complexities that came up for me.  Not answers - more questions:
  • I have spoken to couples living with Alzheimer's and several said that physical contact - presence, affection, sex - is often a channel of connection when words are not available.
  • If he forced himself on a resistant partner, that's clearly a violation.
  • Is it equally a violation if she did not indicate either approval or rejection?
  • If she reciprocated - does that imply consent? Or are any of her decisions and responses suspect because her mental faculties are impaired?
  • If she is deemed unable to consent, does she get any say in any of the treatments that are recommended?
  • At what point, and how is she declared unable to consent?  I'm guessing there is a clear area, and a lot of gray area.
What are your responses to this situation?

1 comment:

Julie Ryan said...

How do you even prove that she wasn't consenting? Is it solely based on the nursing home saying that she has mentally passed the point of being able to consent? Therefor any sexual act she engages in is non-consensual (much as any statutory rape)?