Sex

Man cleared of rape due to ‘sexsomnia’

His conviction was overturned because he wasn’t awake when it happened.

In a controversial move, the Swedish appeals court has overturned a man’s rape conviction because he was suffering from ‘sexsomnia’ at the time.

Mikael Halvarsson was sentenced to two years in prison earlier this year after a girl awoke to find him assaulting her. She called the police the next morning and they arrived to find him still in her bed.

The appeals court has now overruled the charges on the grounds that Halvarsson “was unconscious of what was happening" and had no intention to rape the woman.

A doctor confirmed to the court that sexsomnia was an actual thing which Mikael could well have been suffering from, and as the name suggests, it’s a state in which you have sex while asleep.

Halvarsson’s ex-girfriend also testified that he had tried to have sex with her while asleep before, and when she stopped him, he seemed confused and asked what had happened. His mother also confirmed that he had previously suffered from disturbed sleep patterns.

Sexsomnia is a rare condition, but it does happen – even in Australia. In May 2008, 47-year-old Northern Territory man Leonard Andrew Spencer was acquitted of charges against a 21-year-old girl after his defence cited “sex sleep” as an argument.

Trent John Pobar, 29, was found not guilty of raping his friend's partner in the Northern Territory town of Katherine in January 2011, when his lawyer said that he had a history of parasomnia (abnormal behaviour while asleep).

However, Gerrard Kennedy, Professor of psychology Counselling and Psychotherapy at CairnMiller Institute and Sleep Expert in Austin Hospital and Monash Medical Centre, tells Cosmo that sexsomnia is actually highly uncommon in Australia.

“I’ve only seen a handful of cases in 20 years of working in the industry,” he says.

“Usually it only happens while the sufferer is in bed and there’s someone next to them. Most commonly this is just rubbing or touching, but occasionally there are cases of full penetration. This is not generally pleasurable; it’s more a robotic and rough experience.

“So far all of the sufferers I have dealt with have been male. Females can experience the condition, but not to the same extent. This is mainly because of the penetration factor.”

Kennedy says that if somebody knows they suffer from sexsomnia, they should be held accountable for their actions if they knowingly put themselves in risky situations.

“If they know they’ve got this issue they should tell their new partner. They shouldn’t put themselves in the situation where they can do that kind of thing and potentially assault somebody,” he explains.

“If this person gets drunk and falls asleep next to somebody and something goes wrong, then there’s some accountability there.

“I’ve had boys ringing from jail citing parasomnia as an excuse for murders they’ve committed, or men using it as an excuse for having affairs.”

This goes to show what a controversial issue this is, and how difficult it is to deal with in a court of law. The Halvarsson case could also have an impact on future cases of rape while sleeping.