Late last week, the State Supreme Court upheld a dangerous Appellate Court decision that limits the meaning of “physical helplessness” in sexual assault cases. CONNSACS is disappointed with the Court’s decision in State of Connecticut v. Richard Fourtin and will continue to pursue legislation to mitigate its damaging impact.
Fourtin was convicted of attempted sexual assault in the second degree and sexual assault in the fourth degree. His victim was a young woman who has such severe physical and developmental disabilities that she cannot walk, communicate verbally, or perform the activities of daily living without assistance. Despite her disabilities, the Appellate Court overturned Fourtin’s conviction and wrote in its decision that the victim was neither “unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse.”
The Court ruled that because the victim can communicate “by gestures, biting, kicking, and screaming,” she could have expressed her lack of consent to her offender and therefore cannot be considered physically helpless. By implying that the victim should have physically confronted her offender in order to communicate her lack of consent, the Court is perpetuating the myth that victims of sexual violence are somehow responsible for preventing their assaults. No victim should ever be asked to fight against their assailant to prove their lack of consent.
Since the Appellate Court ruling three years ago, CONNSACS and a coalition of supporters, including The Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, The Office of Protection and Advocacy, and The Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities, have pursued legislation to improve Connecticut statute in light of the Fourtin case. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Appellate Court’s decision, it is more important than ever for us to pass legislation that provides explicit protection for people with disabilities who are victims of sexual violence.
Are you upset about the Supreme Court’s ruling? Here are a few things you can do in response:
- Contact your state legislators and tell them, “People with disabilities are at risk because of the Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Fourtin. During the 2013 session, please support CONNSACS’ efforts to ensure that Connecticut’s sexual assault statutes offer adequate protection to people with disabilities.”
- Write letters to your local newspapers. Let them know that people care about this issue and that no victims of sexual violence should ever be asked to physically defend themselves against an assailant.
- Talk to your friends and family. Sexual violence is rarely discussed in our society, but newsworthy events like the Fourtin case create opportunities for all of us to talk about the prevalence of sexual violence and what we can do to end it.