Monday, 15 October 2012

Prosecutor's Incompetence Means That Disabled Woman's Rapist Goes Free

Fasten your seat belts, folks. The story of L.K. and the circumstances around the recent overturning of Richard Fourtin's rape conviction has something for everyone.

Richard Fourtin's Case: The Basics

Richard Fourtin was 28 in 2008, when he was convicted of raping a 26-year-old woman with cerebral palsy. Richard Fourtin was to serve 6 years in prison. The Supreme Court of Connecticut recently overturned his conviction, however.

(Sidebar: I typed "disabled woman rape" into Google News to try and find news sources about this story. I found several. I also found, in the first two pages of search returns, stories about six separate incidents of women with disabilities being raped in 2012. I don't want to think about how many that we don't hear about. I don't want to think about how many that just don't get reported.)

The woman that Richard Fourtin raped, referred to as L.K., is thought to have the mental age of a three year old. She is not legally able to consent to sex. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned Fourtin's conviction because 3 of 4 judges ruled that, despite the fact that L.K. has severe physical disabilities and can only communicate by lifting a finger, that she was able to express lack of consent by "biting, kicking, screaming, and gesturing".

Opinions, Opinions, Opinions About Richard Fourtin

Horrified? I was too. And judging from the comments on the articles that I read, I wasn't the only one. But I was surprised at some of the reasons.

What I thought was a surprising amount of people called Richard Fourtin a pedophile, for wanting to have sex with someone with the mind of a they'd totally glossed over the fact that she has a woman's body. I think that there's a tendency in general to "freeze" people with intellectual disabilities as children, when many are perfectly capable of consenting to sexual activity and want to do so. As is their right.

I responded to a comment that said that "People with physically and mental disabilities aren't able to defend themselves from attack." In L.K.'s case that may be true. In fact, anyone may find themselves, in an attack situation, unable to respond, for any number of reasons: shock, panic, a decision that staying still may ultimately be safer...but if I was attacked and decided to fight back, I think that anyone bargaining on the fact that my being disabled put me at a disadvantage might be surprised. I'm heavier than I look and I've got a lot of strength in my right side. (And I hate blanket statements, might as well challenge me to prove that it's not true, although in this case I'm not about to go out looking for someone to attack me in order to do it.)

And there's my typical curiosity about whether the overturning of a rape conviction would be leave the commenting public calling for the judges' heads (and other parts) on a platter if the woman involved didn't have a disability. I realize that people would be angry. But people seem especially angry when injustice is committed against a person with a disability. This is an injustice against women - period. Not just women with disabilities. If you want to talk about sexual assault injustice that's unique to women with disabilities, talk about the fact that women with disabilities are at least twice as likely to be raped or assaulted than women without disabilities.

Not As It Seems

It all looks pretty bad. However, if you're going to angry at anyone that Richard Fourtin is out on the streets (and I think we can all agree that he shouldn't be), blame the prosecutor. He screwed up big-time on this one, and even the court tried to tell him so.

Instead of charging Richard Fourtin under a statute sub-section that the prosecutor could have made stick because of L.K.'s inability to consent, he (she?) chose to charge under a sub-section where he needed to show that that L.K. was "powerless" to consent. It seems like a small distinction, but as Ken shows at, it's actually fairly important. The judges didn't feel that the prosecutors showed that L.K. was powerless to consent, so they had to overturn Richard Fourtin's conviction, in order to uphold the law.

It's not within the scope of due process to then say, "But he did something awful, so let's find the right statute to charge him on."  Unfortunately, because of double jeopardy, it's not within the scope of due process to charge Richard Fourtin again with this crime. So he's a free man.

Well, doesn't that lawyer deserve a pat on the back for fucking that right up?

L.K. Has to Live With It

I once worked with a young man with autism, whose family told me that he'd been sexually abused as a young child. They said that they didn't think it affected him. I filed the information away, thinking that perhaps we'd need a referral to a psychiatrist eventually, because I think that these things *always* affect us. I doubt that L.K. will forget what Richard Fourtin did to her, or the four days that it took her to testify about it in court.

Will we ever know for sure how it affects her? Probably not.

But I sure hope that the prosecutor does some thinking about how it might affect her...and loses more than a couple of nights sleep over it. Is that mean?

I don't really care.

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  1. I live in a neighboring state and have not heard about this case...thanks for highlighting it. It's a case of legalism trumping morality...this is a sample case of immorality, preying on the vulnerable, the trusting the victim unprotected by those who should be protecting. The prosecutor is an idiot and should be fired, the perp should be jailed for life and beaten daily and the judge? just doing his job, legal is not moral and a lot of people have lost their moral compass. Makes me slightly despondent about the state of our society.

  2. Sadly, I think it got very little coverage in the media. Some online news sites picked it up, mainly because it originally sounded like something that would stir up a lot of controversy (which it did). But then legal bloggers started to point out what really happened, and most of the ensuing discussion has gone on in the blogosphere. I think it brings up several issues that need to be looked at, from a legal point of view, but it doesn't look as if it's going to happen. Call me cynical, but I'd be willing to bet that if the rapist of the daughter of a celebrity or a politician had had his conviction overturned because of a lawyer's mistake, there would have been a lot more coverage and a lot more fuss about what should have been done - but L.K. is a severely disabled woman with presumably no ties to anyone famous, and most people would make the argument that she probably doesn't even understand what's going on, so why bother, right?

    It really is sickening. :(