Today I noticed an item over at Daily Nous about a professor of philosophy being convicted of the crime of rape. The source they linked to was an article that gave much more in depth coverage of the case.
It’s unusual for a woman to be charged with sexual assault against a man, and this case is even more unusual because the man in question is suffering from cerebral palsy and is disabled quite seriously. He cannot take care of himself physically, and experts agree that he is not capable of consenting to sexual activity either.
The professor disagrees, believing that he was able to communicate his consent by means of facilitated communication. The problem with this theory of the professor’s is that facilitated communication as a method has been demonstrated to be a case of not authentic communication from the patient, but rather blatant confirmation bias on the part of the facilitator and patient’s families.
It’s certainly possible that this was a special case, that neither the professor nor the family were subject to confirmation bias in such a way that it determined the content of the patient’s communications. That’s just very unlikely, given the evidence of what goes on in facilitated communication, which seems primarily to be a case of people reading into a situation what they really want to be true. For the patient’s family, they want to believe that their family member is intelligent and loves them and is able to somehow communicate that to them. For the facilitator, they want to believe that they can truly tell what someone intends to communicate by feeling their hands move.
And I believe that the professor is being sincere in proclaiming her love for the patient. I would wager good odds that the prosecution in wrong about the motives of the professor, no matter how well their narrative might have played in court. After all, facilitated communication is generally communication that’s actually coming from the facilitator, and how could the facilitator not project her love for herself back upon herself through the mechanics of the keyboard?
How could someone not love the one who loves them so deeply, which in this case happens to be herself? As understandable as that is, I think the conviction is correct if my understanding of the evidence is correct. Her sexual contact with the man does amount to rape under the law, regardless of how good her intentions might have been or how genuine her feelings may be.
Even if it is true that he genuinely wanted her sexual attentions, she, being the responsible party, should have refrained. The right thing to do is to ask questions and make sure the man can consent in a case like this. And for a philosopher to not ask the right questions on a serious ethical issue is rather concerning. After all, asking the right questions is precisely what philosophers are trained to do.
As a result, her daughter is left without a mother to care for her, and the family of the patient probably feels violated. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure how the patient himself feels about it, and that’s precisely the problem.