Delawareans who stay at group homes, treatment facilities and other residential institutions would be protected from sexual predators, under legislation drafted by the Department of Justice.
The measure makes it clear that consent cannot be used as a defense when sexual assault allegations are made by someone who is disabled, elderly or otherwise staying at an institution.
“The ultimate abuse of power is abusing someone who has been placed in a vulnerable situation,” Attorney General Beau Biden said.
The law and its penalties would apply to caregivers and workers at mental health institutions, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, group homes and psychiatric treatment centers who sexually assault or attempt to sexually assault a resident.
State Representative Michael Barbieri, D-Newark, is sponsoring the legislation. Barbieri, who also has a long career in the mental health field, said “these people are unable to protect themselves, so we must do what we can to help.”
“Although we wish were were in a society where people respected and treated others with dignity – especially those that are vulnerable – there are those who exploit the vulnerable,” Barbieri said.
The legislation is similar to an existing law that states children who are younger than 12 are presumed to be unable to provide consent. Potential prison time would be increased from 8 to 15 years depending on the level of sexual assault or if a victim is physically injured.
“We have really, really great facilities in this state. This is not a statute in search of a target,” Biden said. “We have had cases that are the exception, not the rule, that it’s been hard to charge under the current statutory scheme.”
The bill is being introduced in the House and Senate for consideration.