Canadian Man's Rape Defense: He Was Asleep

People have been known to do strange things in their sleep -- walking, talking. But rape?

Jan Luedecke, a Canadian man, recently was acquitted of the crime because he claimed he was asleep when he forced himself on a woman he didn't know.

The two had fallen asleep on the same sofa after a party. They both had been drinking.

When she awoke, Luedecke, 33, was having sex with her. She pushed him away and he said he awoke only when he hit the floor.

"He says that he had no memory of having sex with anybody," said Natalie Pona, a reporter for the Toronto Sun. "And he, in fact, didn't know an assault had occurred until he woke up to use the washroom and found he was still wearing a condom."

A Sleep Disorder

In court Dr. Colin Shapiro testified that Luedecke suffers from "parasomnia" -- a condition in which people do strange things in their sleep. One of its symptoms is engaging in sleep sex. Doctors say fatigue, stress, drugs and alcohol may trigger a parasomnia episode, and most people do not recall their behavior once they wake up.

Shapiro said he tested Luedecke himself and that his brain displayed symptoms of parasomnia.

"If you accept that people can do odd things in their sleep … then there are certain actions that happen automatically in a sleep sequence," Shapiro said. "The key issue here is that if the person is asleep, then they are not legally responsible."

Disorder or not, some women's groups are furious.

"This person had non-consensual sex with her, and whether it's a disorder or not there has to be some level of accountability," said Chris Leonard of Toronto Rape Crisis Center.

Other Sleepwalking Cases

According to the University of Toronto Center for Sleep Studies, 2.5 percent of adults suffer from parasomnia. Experts say the number of those who engage in sleep sex is unknown and probably under-reported.

"We've had people prepare meals in their sleep" said Dr. Mark Mahowal, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center. "We've had people drive long distances in their sleep. We've had people go next door to borrow a cup of sugar in their sleep. And there's no question about the fact that people can have sexual activity during their sleep without conscious awareness of it."

Recently, there have been several prominent cases involving sleep in the United States. In 2002, a Massachusetts jury cleared a 19-year-old man of assaulting a woman in a college dormitory. He had a history of sleepwalking, but was acquitted because none of the women could identify him.

Also in Massachusetts, a 34-year-old man plead guilty to fondling 11- and 13-year-old girls. But he claims he suffers from sexsomnia and wasn't responsible for his behavior. The girls' mother said she believed his sexsomnia defense.

Eight years ago, an Arizona man, Scott Falater, claimed he was asleep when he drowned his wife and then stabbed her 44 times. Nonetheless, he was found guilty.

"It is something that is going to haunt me forever," he told the court.

As for Luedecke, he escaped the clause in Canadian law which says that those found not criminally responsible for the crimes they commit must undergo a mental evaluation. Because the judge determined him to be competent, Luedecke will neither undergo an evaluation nor serve jail time.

The woman who accused him however, says she will take the case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court.

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