Disabled woman not a “reliable witness”; prosecution refuse to charge alleged rapists
Jess McCabe // 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.”