Normally there’d be some humorous graphic at the top of this article. But this shit ain’t funny. Take a look at these four faces, you may want to punch them by the time you’re done reading (we do not advocate violence, but if there were going to be a time, this would be it).
By now many of you have seen the articles on the atrocious Connecticut State Supreme Court decision to overturn the conviction of Richard Fourtin, the man accused of raping a physically disabled woman. In a 4-3 ruling, they decided that the victim, a woman with cerebral palsy who can barely move, cannot speak, and is severely mentally disabled, did not put up enough of a fight to indicate that the sex that occurred was not consensual.
This is a difficult thing to write about in a rational manner without things deteriorating into incoherent swearing and calling down the wrath of ancient, forgotten gods against the justices who voted to overturn this conviction. I am the parent of an autistic child who at the age of five, is barely verbal and incapable of communicating simple facts about what happened in kindergarten that day. This crime, and the subsequent ruling to overturn the conviction, is the stuff of my nightmares and those of anyone who has a loved one with a serious disability.
If the reason for overturning this conviction came in the form of new forensic evidence exonerating Fourtin or some other new information that cast doubt on his involvement or something along those lines, it would simply be justice served. But the reason that the justices gave for overturning the conviction was that the victim did not qualify under the law as “physically helpless.”
That’s right. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
If you feel like reading the ruling opinion, you can. It spends several pages dissecting the legalistic definition of “physically helpless” and apparently, being completely nonverbal (relying on grunting and occasional use of a communication board), and having an extremely limited ability to move due to cerebral palsy, does not, in these judges’ minds, qualify as “physically helpless” because she could have screeched, bitten, kicked, or scratched to communicate that she did not want sex. These are the same justices, by the way, who sat through four days of the victim’s laborious testimony watching her slowly and painfully use her one working finger to respond to questions with her communication board. They watched this testimony and concluded she could have really put up more of a fight.
‘‘It is apparent that the physical helplessness contemplated by the statute requires more than a disease causing physical paralysis.’’
Again, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. See, what the judges are looking for here is a “physical inability to communicate unwillingness.” The not-so-subtle bigotry here is, “we presume that women always want sex, unless it’s proven otherwise.” (Three of the Connecticut Supreme Court Justices dissented, their opinion can be read here.)
Never mind that it has been indicated that the victim had never received any type of sex education in her life, and indeed would not have been likely to get much out of it if she had, since she was determined to have the mental capacity of a 3 year old. It’s extremely unlikely that she fully understood what was happening to her. That makes it no less a crime.
One wonders whether these “justices” have ever spent a moment contemplating the reasons why it is illegal for an adult to have sex a 3 year old. Yes, it is physically unsafe for the child, it can do terrible harm to their bodies. But it is also more than slightly traumatic and emotionally damaging. A three year old inherently lacks the emotional, maturational, and cognitive development to understand or to consent to this type of sexual activity. It is an abuse of power of the worst kind. Anyone with half a brain and a remotely developed sense of outrage ought to be able to string that thought together. Simply because this woman’s body was adult, she is subject to the same expectations of proving she tried to resist Fourtin’s unwanted advances, regardless of the fact that she lacked the capacity to understand what was happening to her, much less give anything resembling actual consent. This would be an unreasonable expectation if the victim were only mentally disabled, and in the case of this victim’s added extreme physical disability, it defies reason.
The mentally and physically disabled in America are disproportionately the victims of physical and sexual abuse (see my co-admin’s article exploring these statistics further). This ruling will do nothing to alleviate that, or make it easier for people who work with disabled victims to help seek justice for them.
These justices ought to be ashamed of themselves. We plan to tell them so. We’ve found that the Connecticut Supreme Court keeps their Justices’ contact information fairly tightly guarded, but since we are ninjas we got two of the justices’ phone numbers who voted to overturn this conviction. We suggest you give these folks a call, or if you get stage fright on the telephone, drop them a letter and tell them they should be ashamed of their decision in State v. Fourtin:
Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers
Justice Richard N. Palmer
Supreme Court Buliding
231 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106