Dad blames 'sexsomnia' for assault on daughter

(QMI Agency files)

(QMI Agency files)

Megan Gillis, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:07 PM ET

OTTAWA - A 48-year-old man likely molested his young daughter during an episode of "sexsomnia," a psychiatrist and sleep expert testified at his trial Monday.

The girl told police in a videotaped interview that her father had removed her underwear, held her arms and legs down and touched her genitals. When she tried to slap him, he pushed her off the bed.

The man -- who can't be named to protect his daughter's identity -- is charged with sexual assault and sexual interference in the Dec. 2010 incident.

"She was absolutely sure her father was asleep at the time," testified Dr. Colin Shapiro, who interviewed the girl and her dad. "She couldn't rouse him and he was snoring.

"This is a very unfortunate incident," Shapiro said, adding that he's been involved in several similar cases. "It's a disaster for the family."

Sexsomnia is a form of parasomnia, which is when people do things they don't normally do while sleeping, for example walking, explained Shapiro, the author of 250 publications on sleep and heads the sleep lab at Toronto Western Hospital. Triggers could include sleep deprivation, disruptions in sleep, alcohol and stress.

The accused, who had been "scolded" by his wife in the past for making unwanted sexual advances to her in the night, reported being confused upon waking and having "amnesia" about what happened, Shapiro said. He had been drinking that night, had been tired and was under stress at work and home including financial pressures and fear his wife was having an affair.

"There would have been triggers that fit with parasomnia," Shapiro said, adding that the sleeping man may have thought the child was his wife, who'd kicked him out of his own bed because he'd been drinking and would snore.

Testing showed no signs of pedophilia.

Judge Lise Maisoneuve asked Shapiro whether people can have criminal intent during an episode of parasomnia.

"There is not a formulated plan," Shapiro said. "It's as if the motoric part of the brain gets disconnected from the appreciation for what you're doing.

But prosecutor Michael Boyce, who will call his own sleep expert to rebut the doctor, indicated the accused has a history of booze-related black-outs.

The man has also given three different accounts of how he ended up in the girl's bed, including telling police he never got into bed with his wife that night at all, Boyce said.

Shapiro called that "minutiae" and said that people with parasomnia try to make up the story that fits the facts and it won't stay consistent because they don't know what really happened.

This isn't the first time sexsomnia has been used as a defence.

In 2009, a Toronto man was acquitted of a 2003 sexual assault because of sexsomnia.

megan.gillis@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @ottawasun_megan


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