Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Did disabled man consent to sex with 'prof' who helped him type?

There is a fascinating and harrowing account in this weekend's New York Times Magazine about a relationship between a professor and a severely disabled man. 

The man, known as D.J., has severe cerebral palsy, doesn't speak, and has been diagnosed with a significant intellectual disability.

The professor, Anna Stubblefield, was formerly chair of philosophy at Rutgers University. She'd been asked by D.J.'s family to help him communicate through a method known as "facilitated communication," where someone supports the arm of a person to enable them to type. Much controversy surrounds the use of assisted keyboarding and whether the messages are generated by the facilitator, or the person being supported.

Anna was charged with, and found guilty of, two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and now faces up to 40 years in prison. She said they were in love.


Whether facilitated communication is truly working with someone who can only so communicate has always been an issue. There have been cases, many of them where every test is failed when facilitator is not privy to the info in a controlled situation. Yet, there are the cases when it does work out.

There is a terrible situation now in COlorado where an autistic woman is being held captive. There are suspicions of abuse and neglect by her father who is her facilitator for communication. Trying to get some idea of what is happening and her desires without using the father who is also suspect, as the translator has been a major issue.

It should be an important and integral step to get others to be able to facilitate because unfortunately any given person can become suspect or actually be an abuser. Also, that one person can die, become disabled, any number of things. Anyone undergoing the facilitated communication route should have something in place where multiple translators can take place. It's always suspect when only ONE person can communicate for someone. Sad, but the case.

Hi Louise,

I haven't had time to read the enclosed article related to this case, as I do admit that "vulnerable persons" must be protected from various forms of abuse, but there are several ways in which a severely disabled person can communicate. Moreover, even in instances of severe cerebral palsy, or intellectual disability, a person knows whether or not they want be sexually active. So, in the name of justice, or just plain old human dignity, "Why doesn't somebody ask him?"

Matt Kamaratakis

Whether he was truly communicating or not, this sexual relationship is highly unethical simply due to their professional relationship. There's a reason doctors and therapists aren't supposed to sleep with patients.