Sex and Senility – When is It a Crime?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 24, 2015

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Henry Rayhons, 78, was charged with felony sexual abuse for allegedly having sex with his wife in a nursing home on May 23, 2014. On April 22nd, Mr. Rayhons was found not guilty by an Iowa jury.

Mr. Rayhons was charged under Iowa law with “Sexual Abuse in the 3rd Degree” for allegedly

Performing a sex act on… a person suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent, and with whom he was not cohabiting as husband and wife at the time…

As reported by the New York Times, Donna Lou Rayhons showed signs of severe Alzheimer’s before being placed in the home in Garner, Iowa at the end of March, 2014. She didn’t know her own daughters’ names, she didn’t know how to eat a hamburger, and she tried to wash her hands in a restaurant toilet.

Lack of Consent?

Holding HandsEight days before Mr. Rayhons allegedly had sex with his wife in her shared room, nursing home staff members told him that a social worker believed Mrs. Rayhons was mentally unfit to consent to the act.

Mrs. Rayhons’ roommate told the nursing home staff that on the night of May 23 Mr. Rayhons had pulled the curtain between the beds closed and that she had heard noises indicating that the couple was having sex.

On the witness stand, Mr. Rayhons, a former nine-term state legislator, denied that he had sexual contact with his wife on the night in question, according to the Des Moines Register. He said that he only held her hand and kissed her.

Mr. Rayhons said that his wife took off her own clothes and changed into a nightgown. He admitted that he had picked up her underwear from the bathroom and put it in a hallway hamper.

Mr. Rayhons also testified that his wife had reached into his pants and fondled him on previous occasions, but that had not requested it and that it didn’t happen on the night at issue.

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DNA Evidence

A lab worker testified that he found traces of Mr. Rayhons’ semen and DNA on his wife’s bed sheet and quilt, according to the Globe Gazette. Her underwear was also stained with seminal fluid, but the DNA could not be extracted.

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent secretly recorded Mr. Rayhons saying that he had briefly tried to have sex with his wife, but Rayhons testified that he was not referring to the night of May 23.

Dr. Robert Bender, a Des Moines geriatrician, testified that Alzheimer’s patients often retain sexual desire even after their other brain functions decline.

“It is part of being human — a very, very basic part of being human,” he testified, saying that a deep part of the brain can recognize a person’s longtime partner. He said that this allows even a person with dementia to make a decision to engage in sexual relations with a loved one.

Mrs. Rayhons passed away in August.

Elder Law

If you have questions about the rights of patients with dementia, and about crimes against people with dementia, you may wish to consult an elder law attorney in your area.


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