Bioethics Blogs

Rape, disability, and gender: A response to McMahan and Singer’s op-ed on the Anna Stubblefield case

Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases of sexual
harassment and sexual assault in academia and particularly in more
male-dominated fields, including my home field of philosophy. In these cases,
professors use their position of prestige and power to sexually harass and
abuse their students. UC Berkeley philosophy professor John
Searle
is just the most recent example. To my knowledge, all of these cases
have involved male professors victimizing female students. The lone exception
is Anna
Stubblefield
, a former professor of philosophy at Rutgers. Here is a
summary of her case from Current Affairs

At issue is the case of Anna
Stubblefield, a Rutgers University philosophy professor convicted of sexually
assaulting her mentally disabled pupil, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The case is, to say the least, extremely unusual. The student, D.J., was a
severely impaired 30 year old man with cerebal palsy, who had never spoken a
word in his life and communicated through “screams” and “chirps.” Stubblefield
acted as his personal tutor, using a discredited pseudoscientific technique to
elicit what she insisted were complex communications from D.J. Eventually,
based on what she believed D.J. wanted, Stubblefield began engaging in sex acts
with him, having become romantically attracted to him over the course of her
time assisting him.  

Stubblefield’s case is not only different because she is a
woman and her victim is a man, but also because she is one of the few
professors to go through the legal system and be convicted.

There are
many complexities to Stubblefield’s case and I don’t have the space to address
them all here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.