Ex-Rutgers Professor Anna Stubblefield Admits Sex With Intellectually Disabled Student Was a Crime

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Anna Stubblefield, the former Rutgers professor who was initially sentenced to 12 years for sexually assaulting a disabled student, pleaded guilty to criminal sexual contact on Monday as part of a new plea deal.

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Stubblefield was first sentenced to 12 years in prison in January 2016 after being found guilty in 2015 of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. But an appellate court determined in 2017 that Stubblefield did not receive a fair trail and overturned the conviction. NJ.com reports that in Newark Superior Court on Monday, Stubblefield pleaded guilty to third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact as part of plea deal with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which recommends a four-year prison sentence (though Stubblefield would get credit for the time she’s already served.) Stubblefield’s sentencing is scheduled for May 7.

Stubblefield, a former professor of ethics at Rutgers, was the subject of a 2015 New York Times Magazine story about her case. Stubblefield was enlisted by the family of the victim D.J., a 34-year-old man who has cerebral palsy and was declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler, to help him communicate with a controversial method known as “facilitated communication,” which involves guided typing and movements. Stubblefield then developed a sexual relationship with D.J. and maintained throughout her trial that he could consent to their actions.

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Stubblefield finally admitting in court that her sexual contact with D.J. is a crime is a departure from how she has previously described their relationship. “I believed that he and I were intellectual equals, and that our romantic relationship was consensual and mutually loving,” she wrote to Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare in a letter from prison in 2016. “I intended no harm, and I had nothing to gain.”

Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel

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Political Science isn't Rocket Science - Except when it is

I guess the piece I’m missing is how the hell an ethics professor misses the red lights on this situation. Even setting aside the questions surrounding facilitated communication - it generally tells you what you want to hear and varies based on the facilitator - consent among people with developmental disabilities is a fraught question that would generally lead anyone who knows anything about ethics to stay the hell out of a relationship with anyone they were serving as a client in any capacity. Even higher functioning people with developmental disabilities - such as autistic people who have verbal communication - pose troubling questions about consent. Many times they will give clear verbal statements that can be taken as consent for no other reason than they think it is what is expected of them/the script they were trained in. Many times they will say yes just to end a conversation they are bored with. Because they often lack the executive function to think about long term consequences, they will agree to horribly lopsided agreements just to get something they want right now. (Admittedly, so will a lot of “neurotypical” people, but it can be highly exaggerated with this population). This isn’t to say people with autism or other DD can’t consent -but damn if this wasn’t a situation ripe for abuse that she of all people should have known to avoid.