DFI Submission on the “Sexual Offences and Vulnerable Persons” discussion paper and proposed legislation: Summary in Easy-to-Read language

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Disability Federation of Ireland Submission on the “Sexual Offences and Vulnerable Persons” discussion paper and proposed legislation

 

Who are we?

The Disability Federation of Ireland is an organisation that supports services and voluntary groups that work in the area of disability.

Members support

Organisations can join us as members, and we work with them to make sure people with disabilities are listened to and are able to live their lives included in society.

 

 

 

What is this document about?

There is a law (called the Sexual Offences Act) which was made in 1993. It is illegal for anyone to have sex with someone who is “mentally impaired.”

       This was meant to be for the protection of people, but it has caused a lot of confusion. This is because it means that people with disabilities might be breaking the law if they have sex, even if they choose to.

The Irish government wants to change this law, and have asked people to make comments on a new law they have proposed. This document is about what we think about this new law in DFI.

We think that there are some good and some bad things in the new law. We will talk about the good and bad things, and also make some suggestions to the government about what we think would be good to include.

 

The positives

1) The Purpose

 

At the beginning of the discussion paper, a “purpose” is set out. This is about why the new law is needed. The reasons are:

  • Making sure all types of sexual offences are included (not just sexual intercourse)
  • Making sure relationships between people with disabilities are not illegal
  • Making sure that the law doesn’t go against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

2) Sexual exploitation

 

“Sexual exploitation” means that sometimes, people are likely to get abused for sexual reasons by other people.

 

People with disabilities are more likely to have this happen to them.  It is important that the people making laws remember this.

3) Inclusion of more offences

 

The 1993 law says it is a crime when someone has sex with a person with an intellectual disability.  The law does not include any other kind of abuse like touching or making someone watch sexual material. The new law changes that, which we think is a good thing.

4) Relationships between people with disabilities

 

The 1993 law was very confusing, because it seemed to mean that people with disabilities had to be married to have sex with each other. This new law makes it clear that it is not automatically a crime.

5) New offence of “Abuse of Position of Trust”

 

In the proposed law, it is illegal for a staff member working with a person with intellectual disabilities to have sex with them.

 

The Negatives

1) Definition of “vulnerable person”

 

In the new law, the phrase used to describe the people that this law is about is “vulnerable person”.

 

We know that a lot of services and groups still use this phrase, but we think it makes it sound like people with disabilities are always vulnerable and cannot make their own decisions. This is not right, and so we don’t think it is the language that should be written into law.

2) Capacity

 

When it comes to “capacity” (which means being “able”) to consent to sex, we are worried that people with disabilities might be made “prove” they have a disability to make sure that the person who broke the law is punished.

 

We are also worried that having to prove this capacity means that people with disabilities will be held to a higher standard than other people when it comes to deciding to, and saying yes to, have sex.

3) New offence of “Abuse of Position of Trust”

 

We do think that this new offence is a good thing, to make sure staff don’t take advantage of the people they are there to support.

 

But the law only talks about people who are paid to support other people- nothing is said about volunteers. We think it is important to make sure that nobody is able to abuse their position if they work or volunteer to support someone.

 

Comments and Suggestions

There are some things we think that need to be included in the new legislation, and when law makers are thinking about it.

 

These are things that are really important to think about, and that will make the laws the best they can be. They will help make the laws successful.

1) “Disability neutral legislation”

 

The DFI thinks that all laws should apply to everyone, and that laws that only apply to people to disability are discriminatory.

 

People with disabilities should not be treated differently before the law. “Disability neutral legislation” means that disability is not the focus of the law. The law should apply to everyone rather than mark people with disabilities out as being “different”. 

2) Education

 

Lots of people with disabilities have not had any sex education. In order to help people make decisions about sex and sexual activity, it’s really important that they can learn about it. As a self-advocate in the Connect People Network said, “You wouldn’t expect someone to do a driving test without lessons first!”

 

Conclusion

We think that making a new law to replace the old one is a good thing.

In this new law, there are lots of good things.
There are some things that we think need to change.
It is really important to get this right when we have the chance.

 

Thank you for reading this document.

Note: All images were sourced through Microsoft Clip Art

Disability Federation of Ireland, Fumbally Court, Fumbally Lane, Dublin 8, Ph: 01-454 7978

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