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REPORT GETS TOUGH ON SEX CRIMES

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Behind Closed Doors, a major new report which recommends tightening the law on sex offences - with tougher penaltie...
Behind Closed Doors, a major new report which recommends tightening the law on sex offences - with tougher penalties for sex crimes against people with a learning disability, will be launched by Mencap today.

The report highlights the extent to which adults with a learning disability are vulnerable to sex crimes. The incidence of sex abuse among disabled people is as much as four times higher than for the rest of the population. Estimates indicate 1,400 new cases of sex abuse against people with a learning disability per year in the UK - only 6% of which reach conviction.

The Behind Closed Doors report has been produced in collaboration with Respond and Voice UK, organisations which support people with a learning disability who are victims of sexual abuse. It has the full backing of the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Richard Kramer, Mencap's head of campaigns, said: 'The extent of sexual abuse against people with a learning disability is alarming - the human suffering behind each individual statistic even more so. We know that sex offenders deliberately target vulnerable people with learning disabilities because detection and penalties are so much lower.

'The government must act swiftly to deter sex offenders and, in cases where sex abuse crimes do occur, to ensure that they are brought to justice. People

with learning disabilities should have the same rights within the legal system as all other victims of crime - and we urge the government to stop this infringement of human rights now.'

Fred Broughton, chair of the Police Federation, said: 'Reporting a sex crime is a harrowing experience - all the more so for people with a learning disability. The Police Federation welcomes Mencap's campaign for tougher sentences to give greater protection to those who are most vulnerable to sex abuse and to help us prosecute cases where abuse has occurred.'

Mencap urges the government to implement the proposals of the home office report, Setting the Boundaries (published in October 2000), in order to strengthen the law on sex offences.

Mencap's Behind Closed Doors report recommends that it should be an offence:

- for a care worker to have sex with a person with a learning disability in their care

- to have sex with a person with a learning disability who cannot consent because of their disability

- for an individual to have sex with a person with a learning disability by threats or deception

Mencap's report also recommends that:

- there should be a maximum sentence equivalent to the maximum sentence for rape, which is life imprisonment - currently the maximum sentence is only two years for sexually abusing a person with a severe learning disability

- training for police, crown prosecution service and judges to raise awareness of how to support people with learning disabilities

Alan Corbett, director of Respond, said: 'Respond works with the many truly vulnerable victims of abuse who are currently being failed by thelaw. The changes in legislation would help ensure that the abuse of people with a learning disability is taken seriously.

'They will also serve to highlight the particular trauma and pain suffered by those whose vulnerability is being so terribly exploited. The effects of abuse on someone with a learning disability are long lasting. The law should reflect this in its sentencing,' he added.

Christiana Horrocks, director of Voice UK, said: 'Voice listens daily to horrendous stories of sexual abuse of people with a learning disability. We must ensure that such crimes are treated severely and receive proper punishment.'

For a free copy of the Behind Closed Doors report, contact Mencap's Public Liaision Unit on 020 7696 6900 or its website.

Notes

- See the Behind Closed Doors report (or a summary of the report) for a full list of recommendations from Mencap, Respond and Voice UK to government to strengthen the existing law on sex offences.

- Mencap is the largest charity for people with a learning disability in the UK. Respond provides counselling and psychotherapy to people with a learning disability who have been sexually abused. Voice UK provides support to people with a learning disability who have experienced crime or abuse. For more details, see Organisations involved in Behind Closed Doors on a separate sheet.

- There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Learning disability is a lifelong condition that results from damage to the brain before, during or shortly after birth. It affects a person's intellectual ability and social development.

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