Disabled woman not a “reliable witness”; prosecution refuse to charge alleged rapists

// 18 April 2008

Men accused of raping a Scottish woman with a learning disability that means she has a mental age of eight will not be prosecuted, because she is not considered a “reliable witness”, reports The Guardian.

The Mental Welfare Commission said that Ms A, a former Special Olympics athlete who is 67 but has a mental age of eight, was being kept a “prisoner in her own home” for her own protection. Her abusers, including a man who allegedly assaulted her four times between 1999 and 2006, still live locally, making it unsafe for her to go out alone.

The commission, which oversees the health and wellbeing of mentally ill people and those with learning difficulties in Scotland, said a dozen incidents had been reported to the police, ranging from rape and attempted rape to serious sexual assault, but no action had been taken.

The Crown Office, which oversees Scotland’s prosecution system, said: “We took the advice of the foremost recognised experts in Scotland, who knew Ms A and her circumstances and needs. The advice received was that Ms A would not be a reliable witness.”

This is unbelievable. The Mental Welfare Commission disputes the assessment of the woman’s ability to give evidence, and it indeed seems impossible to imagine how having a learning disability translates into being “unreliable”. It is surely the duty of the criminal justice system to adapt itself so that it is able to deal with evidence from people with learning difficulties.

But what is really mindboggling here is that she was apparently subject to multiple attacks, social services and the police new, and nothing was done:

The investigation began after a housing association passed on her allegations of being raped, only to discover that the police were aware of previous allegations which had not been disclosed to the association by social services.

This points to a serious underlying failure in the system. Why did the police not act when they received the first report that this woman had been attacked? Why did no-one seem to know what was happening? How could the social services leave the woman in a situation where she could be attacked again, if they even suspected this was happening? Perhaps there are reasonable answers to these questions, but it does suggest an unbelievable disregard for her rights as a human being.

George Kappler, who chaired the commission’s investigation team and is a social work commissioner, said: “We still have some way to go before we can say that people with learning disability are able to access justice on an equal basis to other Scottish citizens.”

Comments From You

Samara // Posted 18 April 2008 at 1:33 pm

So she has a mental age of eight. What if she actually was an eight-year-old? Would she be regarded as an “unreliable witness” then?

Vicky // Posted 18 April 2008 at 2:11 pm

Interesting case, but I’m not sure that describing the decision of the Crown Office as ‘insane’ is the best way to promote the rights of women with learning disabilities. Slip of the fingers perhaps?

Lara The Second // Posted 18 April 2008 at 4:46 pm

Exactly, what Samara said.

Jess McCabe // Posted 18 April 2008 at 4:51 pm

I wasn’t thinking, and have edited the post to take this out.

chem_fem // Posted 18 April 2008 at 5:10 pm

Sadly Samara that wouldn’t surprise me either :(

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 18 April 2008 at 6:55 pm

Increasing the catch-all phrase ‘unreliable witness’ is being used to discredit women who have been raped by men. In this particular instance it appears to be ‘open season’ on any woman who has a disability whether it is a learning disability or other form.

As Samara said does this mean any girl aged 8 will immediately be presumed to be an unreliable witness if she discloses a male has raped her. The answer of course is yes, because of the so-called Lolita complex. What happened to this woman is appalling and the Scottish legal system have effectively not only condoned the male rapists but also is giving a clear signal for any other male to commit rape against this woman because she is ‘an unreliable witness.’ Then we wonder why so many male rapists continue to be convicted. This is one reason why – they embedded myth all women are innate liars. Men however are rarely ‘unreliable witnesses!’

Catherine // Posted 20 April 2008 at 2:53 pm

Just to pick up on Jennifer’s point.

I find it a terrible irony that by refusing to give credit to “Ms A’s” testimony, the authorities are essentially claiming that whilst her intellectual capabilities are not sufficiently developed to give an accurate account of her experiences, they certainly grant her with enough sophistication of mind to have fabricated a terrible catalogue of rape and assault.

To follow their “logic” through – “Ms A” is assessed incapable of telling the truth, but more than enough developed to concoct “lies” against men.

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