Anna Stubblefield, a philosophy professor now on unpaid leave from Rutgers University at Newark, is set to go on trial for the sexual assault of a severely disabled man, whom she claims consented to sexual relations via the use of "facilitated communication." The trial judge has ruled that,
At her upcoming sexual assault trial, Rutgers-Newark professor Anna Stubblefield may testify about her use of a controversial technique she claims to have used to communicate with the severely mentally disabled victim.
But if her testimony references studies and takes on more of an expert's perspective, Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare said on Thursday she will inform jurors that the technique, known as "facilitated communication," is not generally accepted in the scientific communities.
In other words, facilitated communication is "junk science," but since Stubblefield believed in it, it is highly relevant to her state of mind regarding her interactions with the alleged victim. This is a common problem in trials: evidence that is admissible for one purpose--e.g., to show someone's state of mind, as in this case--is not admissible for another (e.g., to prove that the severely disabled can really communicate with others through "facilitated communication"). If the defense is not careful in how they question Stubblefield about this issue, they run the risk of the trial judge issuing very damaging instructions to the jury (if the judge tells the jury this is "junk science" this is bound to affect the willingness of the jury to believe Stubblefield that she really thought she had received consent from the alleged victim).
Many people have commented to me over the last year or so that they feel this incident would have generated much more cyber-attention and outrage if Stubblefield had been a man and the alleged victim a woman. That is probably true, though for reasons that are understandable. Most obviously, male sexual assault is more common than female sexual assault, and so has produced more victims, and more concern.