Des Moines, Iowa (TFC) – The trial of Former Iowa Representative Henry Rayhons begins Wednesday. He is charged with sexually abusing his wife before she died. His wife was in a nursing home and suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s when she died.
The case rests on whether or not a person suffering from Alzheimer’s is capable of consenting to sexual activity. In March of 2014, Donna Lou Rayhons was moved into the nursing home and two months later Mr. Rayhons was informed that she lacked the ability to consent. A week later he allegedly entered his wife’s shared room and pulled the curtain around her bed. A roommate reportedly heard sounds of sexual activity coming from behind the curtain.
A crime lab found semen on her bedding that matches Mr. Rayhons’ genetic profile.
Experts are divided on the issue of ability to consent. Some suggest sexual activity with those that love them may be beneficial, and others claim the reduced mental capacity makes consent impossible.
Mr. Rayhons served nine terms in Iowa’s House of Representatives and was running for a tenth term until the scandal broke. He intends to take the case to trial and has proclaimed his innocence.
Iowa’s consent laws are confusing to say the least. A poorly-written Romeo and Juliet law leads to a 14-year-old being able to consent to an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old can consent to a 70-year-old, but a 13-year-old cannot consent to a 14-year-old. The section in which Mr. Rayhons is charged under states:
709.4 SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE THIRD DEGREE.
A person commits sexual abuse in the third degree when the person
performs a sex act under any of the following circumstances:
- The act is done by force or against the will of the other person, whether or not the other person is the person’s spouse or is cohabiting with the person.
- The act is between persons who are not at the time cohabiting as husband and wife and if any of the following are true:
- The other person is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent.
- The other person is twelve or thirteen years of age.
- The other person is fourteen or fifteen years of age and any of the following are true:
(1) The person is a member of the same household as the other person.
(2) The person is related to the other person by blood or affinity to the fourth degree.
(3) The person is in a position of authority over the other person and uses that authority to coerce the other person to submit.
(4) The person is four or more years older than the other person.
To make sense of this part of the consent laws, the reader must realize the act is illegal if it “is between persons who are not at the time cohabiting as husband and wife” and the other person is “suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent.”
To be clear, if Mrs. Rayhons had been living at home when the activity occurred it would not have been a crime regardless of her ability to consent.