Today, The Times and other media have highlighted a horrific case in which a woman with autism in care was reportedly allowed to have high-risk sex with numerous men – including strangers, and in public – in order to help her allegedly “learn from her mistakes”.
A central dilemma is that those involved in her care reportedly faced difficulties reconciling their responsibilities for safeguarding this young woman with their desire to promote her independence. The case is so complex that it has now been transferred from the Court of Protection to the High Court.
An area not touched on by the media – and one we’ve been fighting to raise in the public eye – is how to protect vulnerable people from those willing to exploit them.
We know from our own research that ‘mate crime’, the abuse and manipulation of the vulnerable by their so-called friends, is rife. Twenty per cent of people with autism who reported to us that they’d been abused by friends said it was sexual in nature.
There is no legal protection in English law for people who are deemed to have mental capacity and to be able to make their own decisions and yet are exceptionally fragile and vulnerable to exploitation. Yet the Law Commission rejected our proposal for a Vulnerable Person’s bill because of lack of interest from the Ministry of Justice.
There is a gap in the law. We need to fix this.
Our thoughts are with this young woman and her family on what must be a very difficult day for them all.