Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 131–154 | Cite as

Sexual Assault and the Meaning of Power and Authority for Women with Mental Disabilities



The sexual assault of persons with mental disabilities (also described as cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities) occurs at alarmingly high rates worldwide. These assaults are a form of gender-based violence intersecting with discrimination based on disability. Our research on the treatment of such cases in the Canadian criminal justice system demonstrates the systemic barriers these victims face at the level of both substantive legal doctrine and trial procedure. Relying on feminist legal theory and disability theory, we argue in this paper that abuses of trust and power underlie most sexual assaults of women with mental disabilities. We argue that existing Criminal Code provisions in Canada are inadequate to address this type of exploitation because courts have consistently failed to recognize that such abuses of power and trust are fundamentally inconsistent with any notion of voluntary consent.


Sexual assault Violence against women Mental disability 



The authors would like to thank law students Heather Burley, Tamera Burnett, Rebecca Coad, Tamlin Cooper, Laura DeVries, Robin McMurachy and Kayla Strong for their diligent research assistance and editing assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British Columbia Faculty of LawVancouverCanada

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