Calls for 'fully appropriate' sex education for intellectually disabled people

An outright ban on people with intellectual disabilities having romantic and sexual relationships has been repealed

Calls for 'fully appropriate' sex education for intellectually disabled people

Photo: Mark Stedman/RollingNews

Campaigners say it is crucial that people with intellectual disabilities are given sex education now that the law surrounding their relationships has changed.

Previous legislation meant it was illegal for people with intellectual disabilities to have sex, because it was assumed they could not consent to a sexual relationship.

However, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 - which Frances Fitzgerald commenced in March - introduces new laws while repealing the 'outright ban'.

Kathleen O'Meara, Rehab's director of communications, spoke to Newstalk, saying her organisation very much welcomes the changes.

She explained: "The reason the law existed in the first place was out of a desire to protect people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom would be vulnerable.

"The effect of that law, unfortunately, was to create a blanket ban on people with intellectual disabilities having a romantic or sexual relationship, even if they had capacity to do that."

She said the new legislation creates a category of 'protected person' - or someone who lacks the capacity to consent to a sexual act as a result of their mental or intellectual disability. Anybody who engages in sexual activity with a protected person could potentially be found guilty of a criminal act.

"The responsibility is there with that person who is fully capable," Kathleen said. "The law now puts the onus very much on them."

Kathleen says the bill is an "important step forward in opening up the law" around sexual relationships for people with disabilities.

She observed: "People with intellectual disabilities have as much right as everybody else in the community to have a family, to have a romantic relationship. It's a huge part of a person's life, and really up to now [...] it has been actively discouraged.

"One of the things that this new legislation would ensure is that now we would have proper sexual education for people with disabilities, because at the moment that's not even available."

She added that people with intellectual disabilities, in particular young people, should receive sex education "that is fully appropriate for them, so that they are fully equipped - that they know what consent is, that they know how to say no as well".