Friday, February 26, 2016

When professors of ethics are unethical...

As I was waking up early this morning, I ran across an article posted on The New York Times Web site.  It was about Anna Stubblefield, a former professor of ethics at Rutgers University.  Stubblefield was recently found guilty of raping a man with disabilities.  She has been sentenced to twelve years in prison and must serve at least ten years and two months before she can be considered for parole.

It always shocks me when I read about an esteemed professional ending up in prison, for whatever reason.  It's even more shocking when I hear about women who end up in prison, especially for rape.  Anna Stubblefield's case is extremely bizarre.  The former chairwoman of the philosophy department at Rutgers and mother of two is someone I never would have guessed would end up behind bars.  And yet, in part due to a letter her ex husband wrote to Judge Siobhan Teare, Stubblefield is going to do hard time.

Anna Stubblefield's story is almost hard to believe.  What put her behind bars is an extremely inappropriate relationship she had with the brother of one of the graduate students she taught at Rutgers.  Known as D.J. in the media, Stubblefield's victim is a 35 year old black man with severe cerebral palsy.  Unable to speak or dress himself, D.J. relies on his family for everything.  He has muscle spasms that make it very difficult for him to stay in one position.  He has spasms in his eyes that make it hard to make eye contact or focus on fixed objects.  He is only able to walk if someone helps him.  Otherwise, he must scoot on the floor.  In 2004, five years before Stubblefield met D.J., a psychologist named Wayne Tillman evaluated him and found his ability to comprehend "quite limited".  

Stubblefield claims that she and D.J. "fell in love".  Moreover, she has said that D.J. is not as cognitively impaired as the psychologist claims.  She admits that he lacks motor skills, but that deep down, he was intelligent.  Indeed, D.J.'s family had asked Stubblefield to work with him.  Using a controversial method called "facilitated communication", Anna Stubblefield used a keyboard to help D.J. type out communication.  She claims that what he typed with her assistance came directly from him.  After some time, Stubblefield began a sexual relationship with the man she was tasked to help.  Anna Stubblefield maintains that the messages expressing his love for her and desire for a physical relationship came directly from D.J.

I will admit that I don't know a lot about this case.  I only know what I've read this morning.  Whether or not D.J. actually authored those messages, I have no way of knowing.  What I do know is that even if Anna Stubblefield's account is truthful, what she did was highly unethical.  Moreover, even though she had many friends and colleagues in her corner, vouching for her character, her ex husband paints a picture of a very narcissistic woman who managed to turn the couple's daughter against him.  Even if Stubblefield's ex husband hadn't made the claims he has, sexual relations with a client, especially one who can't consent, is the height of unprofessionalism and unethical behavior.

I read the comments posted on The New York Times about Stubblefield's sentence.  I was shocked to read that some people thought the judge was wrong in taking Roger Stubblefield's comments into account.  One person wrote that Roger Stubblefield's comments were "not relevant".  Really?  While I understand that when marriages break up, there's a lot of "he said, she said" that needs to be considered with a grain of salt.  But had the situation been reversed and it was Roger Stubblefield being accused of raping a disabled woman who is unable to speak, I feel pretty certain that no one would be defending him.  And plenty of people would put stock in what the ex wife had to say.

It's always weird to read about people like Mary Kay LeTourneau and Debra Lafave, women who were teachers and engaged in sexual relations with their underage students.  LeTourneau's case was especially odd.  Once she'd done her time in prison, she and her victim, Vili Fualaau, got married.  As far as I know, they're still happily wed.  Given that Fualaau didn't see himself as a victim and eventually married his rapist, it's hard for me to wrap my head around that case.  Stubblefield's case seems a lot more revolting to me, even though D.J. is technically an adult.  I just don't see how he could have ever consented to a sexual relationship with Stubblefield, even if she's right about his intelligence.

When Stubblefield was convicted of rape, she reportedly cried out, "Who is going to take care of my daughter?"  Seems to me Stubblefield should have considered that before she took advantage of her client.  Moreover, Stubblefield's children have a father.  She claims he's abusive, but even if that's true, I can't imagine he's much worse than she is.  I think this case is one that will go down as fascinating in a grotesque way.


  1. The whole matter makes my skin crawl. It would seem as though there would have been plenty for which to put the woman away with or without the ex's testimony.

    This case -- for no great reason, as there aren't many parallels -- causes me to think of a lady who has physical handicaps who likes to write fiction about herself and Judge Alex having a sexual relationship. It seriously sets off my eww facotr. I suppose I'm a bigot of sorts, though I'm not opposed to the idea of consenting individuals (those who legitimately possess the ability to give their consent, anyway) with disabilities having sex. I just don't particularly want to read about it, hear about it, or even think about it.

    I saw an interview with Mary Kay and Vili last year. He seemed a bit oddly disconnected, but perhaps they're happy. I hope so. Their daughters a are beautiful girls.


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