Man's Defense for Raping Sleeping Woman: "Sexsomnia"

| by Denise A Justin

A 27-year-old man charged with raping a sleeping woman says he is not guilty of a crime. He claims he, too, was asleep during the act. The alleged rape occurred last summer in a cabin in Vilhelmina in northern Sweden after a night of heavy drinking.

“I was awakened by her pushing me away and asking, 'Are you awake?'" the man said during questioning, according to the Aftonbladet news. He stated this wasn't the first time he had awakened to find he'd had sex without knowing it.

Prosecutors filed the charge on March 22 in the Lycksele District Court, stating the 27-year-old man had sexual intercourse with the sleeping woman who was unable to consent or refuse. The woman claims she could not defend herself because she had passed out and was in a helpless state.

The defendant explained he is innocent because he suffers from somnambulism, which is sleepwalking, and sexsomnia, an affliction where sufferers perform sexual acts while still asleep. He cited a history of (undocumented) sexsomnia with anecdotal evidence of somnambulating sexual assaults against his girlfriend, who would tell him the next morning of his unconscious sex with her. 


Believe it or not, while sexsomnia is rare, it is an accepted medical condition, according to neurologist Cramer Bornemann of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis, "This is very well-accepted as a diagnosis within the field of sleep medicine. It's different from having a sexual dream. It's full-fledged sexual behavior while asleep."  

And sexsomnia has been a successful legal defense .In a February 2010 trial, Trent John Pobar, 29, pleaded not guilty to raping his friend's girlfriend in Katherine, Australia. Pobar testified he had been drinking at the friend's house when he went into a bedroom and had sex with the woman.

She woke up and pushed him off, he said, but Pobar states he had no memory of the incident.  The defense claimed the accused had a history of sexsomnia. The prosecution argued it was a case of amnesia caused by the large amount of alcohol he had consumed. The jury came back with a verdict of not guilty.

In 2008 a similar defense was successful in an Australian court.  And a sexsomnia claim won an appeal in 2011, after a man was initially convicted of raping a sleeping woman.

According to Aftonbladet, an expert on sleep disorders is scheduled to testify at the 27-year-old's trial in Sweden.


On the Sexsomnia support and advice site, AAH Says:

"I have problems with this… A few times I have gone to sleep with someone else in the room and, in the morning, they were talking about the sex last night, yet I had no recollection of it. Sometimes, the friend tries to wake me up, but it often makes me become more forceful – I have been known to bite and scratch. I’ve tried sleeping in separate rooms, but it doesn’t always work – sometimes I sleepwalk to the other room. Because of this, I’ve never moved in with my long term boyfriend (he’s very understanding about my attempted sleeping actions with others besides him…).  I really don’t know what to do…I’m scared I’m going to hurt someone."

And "S" writes about her boyfriend's sexsomnia:  " When he starts touching me and rubbing against me when sleeping, his breathing is heavy and he’s more sweaty than when he’s awake. That’s how I know that it’s a sexsomnia incident.  In the beginning I thought he was awake, but now I can easily tell the difference. Actually he’s more determined, forceful and intense when sleeping, not the same as sex when awake. I can fight him off if I really don’t want it, but he’s very determined when sleeping.... He is always tired from lack of continuous sleep. But the taboo is hindering being taken seriously."

In a June 16,  2010 article,” Tired? Could Be Your 'Sexsomnia,” Rob Quinn writes that a recent Canadian study shows that at least 10% of men and 4% of women with sleep disorders have sex while asleep.  As long as you don't get into legal problems and as long as your partner doesn't mind, it's not a problem, researchers say. But it can leave you very tired the next day.