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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Rape of an Alzheimer’s patient is still rape

When we watched Nicholas Sparks’ famous book-turned-movie, “The Notebook,” we believed in the idea of sharing such a deep, passionate love with a person with Alzheimer’s disease that their sickness wouldn’t even matter. At least, that’s how 78-year-old Iowa ex-legislator Henry Rayhons justified his last lustful moment with his wife, Donna, before she died. Unfortunately, not everyone believes his story to be as romantic and innocent as a Nicholas Sparks novel.

As it was reported by The Des Moines Register last September, Rayhons is being accused of third-degree sexual assault for having sexual relations with his wife, who was living in an assisted living facility at the time and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While Rayhons argues that the act was out of love and occurred during a lucid moment, the home and Donna’s daughter are arguing that Donna was not in the right mind to consent to having sex. In fact, Rayhons was warned in an official meeting with a judge, Donna’s daughter and the nursing home staff that any sexual activity would be considered nonconsensual.

Before her death, Donna’s illness had caused her to wash her hands in dirty toilet water and forget how to eat a hamburger. It is easy to assume that consenting to sexual relations would have also been a problem for someone in these conditions. However, when told by the nurses that Donna was not in the right mind for consenting, Henry Rayhons responded saying, “That is not a problem.”

Some may argue that Rayhons deserves the benefit of the doubt in a case that involves his wife’s love for him. But how can he be considered innocent when everything points to him being guilty of sexual assault, and his only chance of clarifying that it was an act love died along with his wife?

“There’s nothing about being cognitively impaired that means that you wouldn’t necessarily appreciate being connected with other people through both nonsexual means and sexual means,” said Dr. Tia Powell, director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in a report by the New York Magazine. 

Would there actually be such an ongoing debate if the two people involved had not been married? Of course not — had the man been a lover outside of marriage, he would have already been considered guilty. Since when did love consist of taking advantage of a sick woman’s short moment of clarity?

We used to not believe that men could rape their wives at all — thankfully, marital rape has been recognized as a crime in the U.S. since the late 1970s. So why are people still using Rayhons’ marriage as an excuse?

When dealing with murder cases, the court simply looks at the facts that are given and discovered — the court does not consider whether the victim was affectionate towards the murderer or not. It would be nonsense to simply rely on this man’s declaration of his love for his late wife, rather than the facts indicating that lust got the best of him in that particular moment.

There is no definitive way that one can prove whether Donna Rayhons consented to having sex with her husband, but it is clear that her husband went against the nurses’ orders and warnings. This case should be treated just as all the other cases in which young women were too intoxicated to make decisions — by looking at the clear facts.


Genesis Lara is a freshman studying journalism, Spanish and French. Follow her on Twitter.

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