Is My Autistic Son Guilty of Sexual Assault?
Alan’s mum was distraught when she first contacted us. Her son was in police custody following an allegation of sexual assault against a female on public transport.
Alan was highly apologetic in police interview, accepting that he had done something wrong and very sorry for the distress caused to the young woman. His family, a good, decent family, were equally upset for her.
Alan, however, has Asperger’s Syndrome. This is a condition that can affect many aspects of a person’s cognitive functioning. While often people with Asperger’s will be highly intelligent, they will have difficulties with social skills, interaction, interpreting facial expressions and body language, as well as an innate drive to be compliant.
Too often in society we see that a person is academically clever and believe this means that the person cannot possible have any additional needs. I’m too used to police officers saying things like, “he’s been to University, he can’t have learning difficulties”. This is an outdated, and dangerous, point of view that places a person with Asperger’s at real harm of not being able to access the justice system fairly.
While Alan and his family saw his case in the black and white sense that people unfamiliar with the law often do, there was much more to it.
Alan had approached a woman on public transport. He had spoken to her, received what he thought were signs that she was enjoying the conversation and liked him, and then placed his hand on her knee. She became uncomfortable at this moment, which he was able to recognise because she told him very clearly, and he moved away.
Alan was ready to plead guilty.
However, for a person to be guilty of sexual assault contrary to Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 they must have:
- Intentionally touched another person
- With sexual intentions
- Without the other person’s consent, and
- Without reasonably believing that the other person has consented
If any of these four points are not present, the offence has not been committed.
For Alan, whether he had sexual intentions was questionable, but his strongest argument was that he complete belief that the woman consented to being touched. As soon as that belief was removed, by the woman very clearly telling him to move his hand, he did so.
The key with belief is that it has to be reasonable, and what constitutes reasonable belief differs for every person and every scenario. The whole facts of the case have to be considered.
In Alan’s case, his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was vital to his reasonable belief of consent. His ability to interpret facial expressions and body language was limited.
His reasonable belief may not have been the same as another person’s in the same situation, and so it was vital that we got to know and understand Alan well.
Fortunately, Alan searched online himself and found that we had helped similar people in similar situations. We are a firm who are proud to have a personal understanding of additional needs and who are dedicated to making the justice system accessible.
It was clear to us that Alan was not guilty, and due to hard work and proactive liaisons, two weeks before his Crown Court trial, we were able to have the case against him dropped.
This was wonderful news for Alan and his family, as a trial would have been very difficult for him, however we particularly see too many cases of young men with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism being charged with sexual offences.
If you or your family need help in a case where your, or their, additional needs require extra support and understanding, call our specialist team now on 01623 600645.