The hidden victims of sexual assault – “the intellectually disabled” – will be protected by tough changes to New South Wales rape laws

Shocking figures reveal between 50 and 90 per cent of people with an intellectual disability will be sexually assaulted – but only a handful of their abusers face court.

The laws are being widened to make it possible to prosecute neighbours, friends and relatives of intellectually disabled people for sexual abuse, Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said.

In NSW, as well as rape laws, there are specific laws making it an offence to sexually abuse a person with an intellectual disability in certain circumstances – including being a carer.

Mr Hatzistergos said the term “cognitively impaired” would replace “intellectually disabled” to bring stroke victims, people suffering from alzheimers and the victims of brain injury under the protection of the law.

They are the latest sweeping reforms to the State’s sexual assault laws following recommendations from prosecutors, police and health workers on the Government’s Sexual Assault Task Force report.

“Taking advantage of a cognitively impaired person for sexual gratification is despicable,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“With the introduction of these laws we are protecting a broader group of disabled people who are vulnerable to the vile predators who prey on them.”

Studies have revealed that assaults against intellectually disabled people are severe and ongoing because the victims are not taken seriously or are unable to communicate the problem.

Often the abuse remains hidden by residential care homes, the Task Force report said.

Sexual assault expert Julie Blyth said these victims were more vulnerable because their abusers believed they either would not or could not report them.

“You do not think of these people being targets but it is important for people to realise that offenders target vulnerability. It is about power,” said Ms Blyth, of the Northern Sydney Sexual Assault Service.

The penalty for sexually abusing a cognitively impaired person is 10 years for carers and eight years for others. Between 2000 and 2005 only 21 such matters were prosecuted in NSW.

Task force member Anne Cossins welcomed the changes to the law but said it would always be difficult to get convictions because cognitively impaired people could not stand up to cross-examination.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23411844-421,00.html



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