Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sex and Sleeping... At the Same Time?

h/t feministing

A 26 year old RAF mechanic was cleared of rape charges because he suffers from a disorder called sexsomnia. Basically, this guy falls asleep and then goes into a state where he'll try to initiate sex during sleep. In this case, he claims to have fallen asleep, and while sleeping, raped a 15 year-old girl. When she awoke to find him on top of her, she screamed, and he got off of her, and wandered out into the yard. He doesn't deny that penetration took place. And yet... he's walking free.

This particular case seems to have been poorly handled, I think. This was a guy who knew he had this problem. He was aware of it, because he'd done similar things before to his girlfriend. He'd groped her and tried to initiate sex with her while he was asleep before. In one instance, he punched her while he was asleep. So, he knows that this is a possibility. That means that it's his responsibility to make sure that he doesn't hurt other people. Knowing that he has this problem, he shouldn't allow himself in a position where he's going to hurt other people. He knew he was sleep deprived, and that he'd been drinking too much, so he shouldn't have slept in a place where there were people that he could harm.

This also raises bigger questions, though. What if this were the first time that it happened? What if he were really truly in a deep sleep trance and did something to hurt someone else without realizing it? What's the appropriate way to handle a case like that? On the one hand, the victim of a crime deserves justice. On the other, we try not to punish people for things that they don't have control over. I'm not sure how a case like that should be handled. And, to throw a wrench further into this: What if the person who suffers from sexsomnia initiates sex with someone who wants to have sex? In the case of this guy, it was a 15 year-old girl, and she didn't want to have sex... but what if it had been a 25 year-old woman who did? What if he woke up and realized what was happening, and he didn't want to have sex? Or if it was a woman initiating sex and a man had sex with her and she woke up?

There's an interesting conversation happening in that feministing thread, now, between Kimmy and activistgradgal, about this very thing. Ultimately, what role and responsibility do sleeping people have if they do things while they're asleep?

If a man tries to have sex with a sleeping woman, that's rape. A sleeping person is not in a condition to give active informed consent to anything, let alone sex. That some sleeping people give the impression of intiating or wanting sex shouldn't really change that, because it's not about the body consenting, but the mind. In this particular case, I think his responsibility comes not from his being asleep, but from his knowing that he has this condition, and not having taken precautions. Had he not known, or had he taken reasonable precautions but something still happened... I'm not really sure what should be done.


Cara said...

I honestly haven't got the slightest clue what to think about this case. Everything about it seems wrong, but I really don't have a solution to offer.

Elaine Vigneault said...

You can clear up some of the confusion by substituting acts.

For example, say he had a problem where he drove while asleep and he wrecked his car into someone's house. He'd clearly be responsible since he knew he had the disorder.