Facilitated communication case regarding sexual assault will go to court

Anna Stubblefield, the chairwoman of Rutgers-Newark’s philosophy department, and an outspoken proponent of “facilitated communication,” is accused of abusing a severely mentally disabled 33-year-old man that she was using as proof of her claim that FC works.

Spoiler: It doesn’t.

Rutgers-Newark philosophy chairwoman fights criminal sexual assault charges | NJ.com.

Today, Stubblefield, 44, is facing criminal charges of aggravated sexual assault for allegedly molesting D.J. repeatedly in her Newark offices in 2011. She’s been placed on administrative leave without pay, university officials say.

And she’s facing a civil lawsuit filed in federal court by D.J.’s mother and brother, who say she used D.J. as a “guinea pig” to advance her cause. They cast her suggestion that D.J. could communicate through her as “a farce” and are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

The pending criminal case, should it go to trial as expected in the coming months, promises to be a referendum on facilitated communication, a technique dogged by controversy almost from the moment it was first publicly identified in the 1990s.

What is facilitated communication?

The “facilitated communication” process consists of the “facilitator” holding the hand of the subject over the computer keyboard (or used with conventional writing means) and moving the hand to the keys. The facilitator is said to be guided to the keys through the sense of touch. In this way, the subject appears to be able to communicate in a very high level not previously seen.

James Randi, who investigated the technique called it a “cruel farce”. People are led to believe that their disabled loved ones can communicate (far beyond their cognitive means). It’s a mean deception that gives false hope.

The technique was introduced in the United States in 1990 by Dr. Douglas Bicklen, a professor of special education at Syracuse University who believed this was a way for autistic people to express themselves in a way they could not physically achieve normally. When used with a willing facilitator, autistic and severely people type out quotes like “I love Mom.”, etc.

When tested, it utterly fails. Clearly and decisively. Fails.

This Frontline episode aired in 1993 and definitively proved FC did not work as stated. FRONTLINE: previous reports: transcripts: prisoners of silence | PBS.

Yet, the belief in it is SO powerful that it continues to be used despite the fact that it’s bogus.

In this case, Stubblefield admitted she had sexual relations with the man. There are criminal charges against her as well as a civil lawsuit from the man’s family. A hearing will take place Thursday to decide if more tests are needed to determine the extent of the man’s ability to communicate. The question is if the man gave consent through FC. The dispute will be regarding the communication method which is still vigorously defended by some. From the scientific viewpoint, this is no contest, no matter what people want to believe about it. Fervent belief does not mean something is true.

Tip: WhatsTheHarm.net

  8 comments for “Facilitated communication case regarding sexual assault will go to court

  1. Chemical
    April 22, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    This is the first I heard of facilitated communication, and frankly, it’s horrifying. It looks a lot like the facilitator is using a disabled person as a puppet. Turning the disabled into a Jeff Dunham show is just wrong on so many levels.

    And I thought belief in homeopathy was the craziest thing ever. I suppose it’s one of those ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ deals, but desperate times do not give you a free pass to disregard logic and reasoning.

  2. Michael
    April 22, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Sharon Hill, I applaud you. Excellent writing and skepticism skills. You rock.

  3. Kevin
    April 22, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    The documentary “Prisoners of Silence” is on YouTube. I watched it years ago and I believe there’s a segment about a “facilitator” who claimed the patient was communicating to her that one or both of the parents of the patient were sexually assaulting them (the patient). The parents had to defend themselves. I believe there was a court case relating to that particular incident. It is shamefully used to give parents false hope that their autistic child can communicate.

  4. terry the censor
    April 22, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    First I read of facilitated communication was Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs, where it is presented as a genuine method. There is even a pretense of testing it. But when I checked into non-fiction sources, it was a little different than the heartwarming breakthrough Coupland presented.

  5. April 22, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    I saw that Frontline episode when it first aired (and a few times since). The irony is that in the Frontline case a facilitated communicator, allegedly communicating what a disabled boy was saying, was accusing the boy’s father of sexual abuse. It was that court case that showed without a doubt that FC is bogus, and that what was “spoken” was what the communicator saw, and NOT what the child (or “person being facilitated”) saw.

    The transcript is good for reference, but I suggest watching the actual episode if you have an hour for it. Here it is on Youtube in four parts:

  6. Horseywhee
    April 22, 2014 at 11:51 PM

    In the mid-90s I taught in a public elementary school. There wasn’t an autistic program so a severely autistic boy was placed in the cognitively disabled program and “mainstreamed” a lot. He had a “facilitator” and his mother was adamant that facilitated communication worked because she claimed he would tell her jokes and how much he loved her. This same child later set himself on fire, pulled me over backwards by my hair, and broke his facilitator’s glasses on more than one occasion. When he got too big to safely handle, he was institutionalized in another state. The whole thing was a sad, sad travesty. His mother’s desire for the boy she had expected to raise, and her anger and frustration that no one had answers for why he was the way he was, caused him to end up with NO ability to communicate because, instead of real therapy and interventions, he was given facilitated communication, a total farce. Sad, sad, sad.

  7. Mike
    June 10, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    In the real world we call this “Ouija Board Communication”. Do any of the charlatans actually believe they are communicating for them?

  8. KevinM
    June 22, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    I think the facilitated communication issue here is secondary. For the sake of argument (and no I don’t believe it works) lets say facilitated communication was real. Even then what she did was a disgusting breach of ethics and an act of rape. Any other variety of therapist who did some thing like this would be rightly up on charges even if the therapy was legitimate besides and personally I hope they nail her to the wall.

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