14:04, October 24 76 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-24 14:04:09
Judge criticises plan that let autistic woman have sex with strangers

A senior high court judge has criticised a court-approved plan that allowed an autistic woman to have sex with numerous men she barely knew.

Mr Justice Anthony Hayden, the vice-president of the court of protection, said the highly vulnerable 23-year-old was serially exploited under a plan authorised by a judge.

“It is plain that a number of men took advantage of [the woman] under these arrangements, compromising her safety and her dignity and imposing what to my mind was, with the enormous benefit of hindsight, an intolerable burden upon those who were to supervise her,” Hayden said.

The woman, who has severe learning difficulties and has been in care since childhood, was free to have men visit her alone at home between 10am and 4pm under the arrangements approved by the court of protection in June.

Her carers were said to have believed that high-risk sexual encounters with strangers might help her to “learn from her mistakes”.

The two-month trial ended in August. In a court report last month, a psychiatrist said exposing the woman to such a high level of risk might lead to “sexual abuse, violence, injury or death”.

The woman is under the care of Manchester city council but her living arrangements have been guided since 2013 by the court of protection. Its role is to safeguard vulnerable adults who do not have the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.

Sitting in a rare public hearing of the family court in Manchester on Wednesday, Hayden said the case was a matter of significant public interest and raised issues that ought to inform public debate.

He said the woman’s autism caused her to have a sexual obsession with men.

Manchester city council launched proceedings at the court of protection in 2013 because it was felt the woman was “at very significant risk of sexual harm if she were permitted to have free rein or be unescorted” in public.

In late 2016, a consultant psychiatrist told a judge that the woman had the mental capacity to marry, engage in sex and make decisions on contraception, but she lacked the mental capacity to “decide on contact with men”.

The woman had married in 2017 and she and her husband were allowed to spend significant amounts of time alone as part of a care package.

However, the judge said, soon after being married the woman began to show sexual interest in other men and social services workers became concerned that the existing care plan exposed her to an “unacceptable risk of harm”.

In early June this year, the case went before the court of protection in Manchester and Judge Jonathan Butler gave permission for the woman to be visited at home alone during daytime hours.

In the next two months she was said to have offered her phone number to “any number” of men. Care workers said she did not always recognise the men when they arrived at her house and “they sometimes don’t recognise her”.

The order was made after the woman, who has an IQ of 52, gave a legal undertaking that she would not have sex in public places.

On Wednesday, Hayden ruled that the woman was in no position to be able to make such a pledge and therefore the undertaking was void.

In a judgement, he said: “With respect to Judge Butler, I have heard sufficient that she was not in a position to give such an undertaking and I discharge it.”

The judge said earlier in the proceedings that the woman was “not being kept safe” under the plan, which he described as a “trial and error” arrangement that “wasn’t working at all”.

The woman now lives in a residential home with other people. The judge said she was ambivalent about her relationship with her husband, who visits her five days a week and stays with her two nights a week under the current plan.

Hayden made an order for a female clinical psychiatrist to undertake a report on the woman and for the case to come before him again in January.

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