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Facilitated Communication Consent Claimed in Sexual Assault Trial

BENJAMIN RADFORD

A Rutgers-Newark professor was accused of sexually assaulting a disabled man. During her September 2015 trial, she claimed that she and the alleged victim were in a romantic and sexual relationship despite his (apparent) inability to communicate. Prof. Anna Stubblefield claims that the man, identified as D.J. who has cerebral palsy, consented to sex through the long-discredited technique facilitated communication (FC). As NewJersey.com reporter Bill Wichert noted:

The state’s experts have said the 34-year-old man, known as D.J., is unable to speak and has intellectual and physical disabilities, but Stubblefield claimed “he wasn’t intellectually impaired at all,” and that he could communicate by typing on a keyboard with her assistance. “None whatsoever,” Stubblefield said when her attorney asked if she had any doubts about whether the relationship was consensual. “Because I knew he was the one who was saying everything that he typed.” As they became romantically involved, Stubblefield said “it was initiated on both sides,” and they made sure each other “was good with what was happening.” She referred to their romance as “just a regular relationship.” http://tinyurl.com/o2bp47x/

In the 1980s, many parents of autistic children turned to facilitated communication, which had been claimed to help autistic individuals, and especially children, to communicate. The technique is based on the idea that an autistic child’s inability to communicate is caused not by a brain disorder but instead a muscular or nerve disorder that prevents them from producing speech. (Stubblefield claims that is the case with D.J., though his doctors state that he is not just physically but also mentally impaired.) In 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Barry Beyerstein, and John Ruscio describe facilitated communication:

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