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Rutgers professor ordered to pay $4 million to sexual assault victim's family

A county judge has awarded $4 million to the family of D.J., the mentally handicapped Rutgers student who was sexually assaulted by the former Rutgers-Newark Department of Philosophy Chair Anna Stubblefield. – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

A county judge has awarded $4 million to the family of D.J., the mentally handicapped Rutgers student who was sexually assaulted by the former Rutgers-Newark Department of Philosophy Chair Anna Stubblefield. 

Stubblefield was sentenced to 12 years in prison in January 2016 after being convicted on two counts of sexual assault after engaging in a sexual relationship with D.J., who has cerebral palsy. The victim could not control his vocal cords and needed assistance to perform basic tasks. 

D.J.'s family filed a civil suit against Stubblefield and Rutgers in 2013 before her criminal trial. NJ Advance Media reported that the suit against Rutgers was dismissed in federal court, but the civil trail against Stubblefield continued. 

Essex County Judge Dennis F. Carey III ruled in the family's favor, awarding D.J.'s mother and brother $2 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. The former includes attorney fees.

D.J.'s mother and brother were named his legal guardians more than ten years ago, The Daily Targum reported.

Stubblefield first met D.J. after his brother took one of her courses, where he learned about "facilitated communication," a controversial field where one person could assist another "speak."

Facilitated communication requires an assistant to help a patient with no motor control move their arms to point at objects or type on a computer. While the patient cannot speak on their own, facilitators can help them "speak" by assisting with movement.

According to The New York Times, evidence has at best provided mixed support that this is an effective method for communication.

D.J.'s brother introduced him to Stubblefield, and she worked with him for more than two years as a facilitator, helping him point to objects or pictures. She said D.J. was the one actually communicating, and she only helped him move his arms and fingers.

She was unable to prove that he was actually communicating himself.

She later told D.J.'s family that they had an active relationship, after which they prevented her from seeing him. She was arrested after multiple attempts at contacting him.

Stubblefield was arrested after police were made aware of the situation in 2011, and convicted in 2016. During her trial, psychologist Paul Mulford said D.J. was not mentally aware enough to consent to a relationship.

The former Rutgers professor said while D.J. was physically unable to control his body, he was still cognizant of his surroundings.

Nikhilesh De is the news editor of The Daily Targum. He is a School of Engineering senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.

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