WEST ORANGE, NJ — On Jan. 15, Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare sentenced the former chairwoman of the Rutgers University Philosophy Department to 12 years in New Jersey State Prison for repeatedly sexually assaulting a disabled man in her school office, according to a release from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
On Oct. 2, 2015, an Essex County jury convicted Marjorie Anna Stubblefield, 46, of West Orange of two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault for repeatedly engaging in sexual acts with a man suffering from cerebral palsy who was unable to speak or communicate. The victim wears a diaper and requires assistance with basic needs such as eating, walking and bathing and has the mental capacity of a toddler.
Under the No Early Release Act, for these crimes Stubblefield must serve 85 percent of her sentence before she is eligible for parole. In addition, she will have to register under Megan’s Law when she is released from prison and she has been disqualified from public employment.
“Professor Stubblefield was a trusted and respected member of the university community who used her position to prey on the victim,” Assistant Prosecutor Eric Plant said in the release. “What she did was not only criminal, it was cruel. Knowing how desperately families of disabled individuals are for some hope, she misled the victim’s family into believing that she was making progress in helping their son to communicate while all the while she was simply satisfying her own tawdry desires. In the process, she did great damage to this young man, his family and even her own family.”
Stubblefield admitted to engaging in sex acts with the victim in her Rutgers University office, where she was allegedly teaching him to communicate through “facilitated communication,” a controversial and discredited method.
Stubblefield met the victim in 2009 when his brother took her class. During the class she showed a video on facilitated communication. After viewing the video, the victim’s brother asked if she thought his brother could be taught this method of communication.
From 2009 to 2011, Stubblefield worked with the victim. She took him from his home to her office. She also met him at a day program. Eventually she started taking him to conferences where she presented him as evidence of the effectiveness of facilitated communications. She claimed he wrote complicated term papers and essays and expressed high-level thinking. She even took him on a date in New York City where she claimed he told her she should not drink wine because she was the designated driver.
After some time the victim’s family members became concerned because they were unable to communicate with him despite her claims that he was typing and communicating.
Eventually, she confessed to the family that she was in love with the victim and planning to leave her husband and children to live in an apartment with him.
At that point, the victim’s mother and brother, who had been appointed by the court to serve as legal guardians, asked Stubblefield to stay away from the victim. Despite this request, she continued to try to make contact with the victim, causing the family to contact the university. Given the nature of the allegations, the university contacted authorities and Stubblefield was arrested and charged following a lengthy investigation.
During the trial, experts testified that the victim was legally incompetent, unable to communicate and thus unable to consent to sex. In addition, the evidence showed that facilitated communication has been discredited as a valid method of communication.
At trial, professor James Todd, a psychology professor at Eastern Michigan University, said facilitated communication had become “the single most scientifically discredited intervention in all of developmental disabilities.”