The House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday designed to ensure the state can prosecute people accused of sexually assaulting a person with developmental disabilities.
Rep. Gerald Fox, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the bill was drafted in response to several cases in which a person with severe disabilities was sexually assaulted but prosecutors had difficulty bringing charges against the culprit.
Current state statute prohibits sexual contact with people considered “physically helpless.” The law is designed to protect people who are unable to communicate an unwillingness to act.
But in a case last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that a person is not considered physically helpless under Connecticut law unless their disability leaves them unconscious or completely unable to communicate. The court found that, despite severe disabilities, a woman who was assaulted was not considered helpless under the law because she had the ability to communicate non-verbally by biting, kicking, or scratching.
Fox said the bill passed Tuesday will make it easier for the state to uphold convictions against people who sexually assault people with disabilities.
“What this does is expand the definition of physically helpless to include those who lack the ability to consent,” Fox said.
The Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services has lobbied for similar bills in three previous legislative sessions. It has also been supported by the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office. Fox said lawmakers were supportive of previous versions of the bill, but there were concerns about getting the language right.
“Most people can identify the really bad situations where somebody truly takes advantage of a disabled person, but in the past some of the [bill’s] language have been overly broad,” he said adding that legislative attorneys have expressed concerns about previous versions of the bill.
The bill will still need to be approved by the state Senate. But Fox said he expects the legislation to easily pass the upper chamber.
During the legislative process, he said the Judiciary Committee heard compelling testimony and statistics on why the law should be expanded to offer stronger protection for people with disabilities. People with disabilities can be twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault, he said.
Fox pointed to another case that was heard earlier this year at a Stamford courthouse in which a driver for disabled people had sexually assaulted a woman.
“He did get a conviction, but even then, in talking to the prosecutor after the fact it is difficult to charge,” he said. “Hopefully this makes it easier.”