PRINCETON, N.J. — An ethics professor at Princeton University has penned a controversial op-ed in defense of a Rutgers professor who was convicted of sexually assaulting a man with severe cerebral palsy, asserting that the two were in love and the man might have actually consented.
The New York Times published Peter Singer’s article on April 3, which centered on the case of Anna Stubblefield, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence. Stubblefield was found guilty in October 2015 of engaging in sexual activity with a 29-year-old man named D.J., who is unable to speak.
In addition to the criminal case, D.J’s family sued Stubblefield in their belief that their son was molested and was awarded $4 million by a New Jersey court last year.
But Singer, along with Jeff McMahan, a professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, argue that it is rather Stubblefield who is a “victim of grievous and unjust harms” because “there is no evidence” that the sexual relationship hurt D.J.
“For someone to spend 12 years in prison for a sexual act that took place in the context of a long-term, caring relationship that was motivated by love—at least on Stubblefield’s part—and about which there is no evidence that it caused any harm is, in our view, outrageous,” he wrote.
Singer believes that D.J., who uses facilitated communication—a disputed form of keyboard typing—could have actually consented to sexual activity as Stubblefield asserts that he had typed his wishes to her.
“Over a two-year period in which she believes she communicated with him often and deeply, she came to love him and to believe that he loved her and indicated his wish to have sex with her,” he stated.
Singer contended that none would have known that the two had sexual relations if Stubblefield and D.J. did not tell the family via facilitated communication.
“This is the action not of a sexual predator but of an honest and honorable woman in love,” the Princeton professor wrote. “Even if she is mistaken in her beliefs about his intelligence and ability to communicate, it is undeniable that these beliefs are sincere and that she was neither reckless nor negligent in forming them. This ought to have been a mitigating, if not wholly exculpating, consideration in the sentencing.”
“It seems reasonable to assume that the experience was pleasurable to him; for even if he is cognitively impaired, he was capable of struggling to resist, and … it is implausible to suppose that Stubblefield forcibly subdued him,” Singer stated.
But some have found Singer and McMahon’s remarks to be shocking. Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs called the op-ed “jaw-droppingly repulsive.”
“The New York Times therefore just published a philosophical defense of raping disabled people, and Peter Singer has—somehow—reached a new low on disability issues,” he wrote.
Singer has made statements before supporting the concept of ending the lives of disabled infants.
“When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed,” he wrote in his book “Practical Ethics.” “The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the haemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.”