Psych Faculty & Sexual Impropriety

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by DynamicDidactic, Nov 15, 2017.

  1. Pragma

    Pragma Neuropsychologist
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    I’m sure it happens somewhat frequently. I’ve heard some Title IX cases as a faculty representative at my institution - there hasn’t been a faculty-student case but I have heard a case about a graduate student having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client.

    On the other side of this issue, FWIW, I exercise extreme care when meeting with students - I keep the door open and only schedule office hours when other people are around. I’ve contemplated whether I could legally record all meetings just to CYA myself in the event of a false allegation. Tenure doesn’t matter.

    Students have made sexual advances towards me in the past. I’ve either ignored them or one time I took it as an opportunity to discuss boundaries.
     
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  3. futureapppsy2

    futureapppsy2 Assistant professor
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    Obviously, your own well-being is by far the priority and you should do what you need to protect that, but if you do feel up to it, I think your responses to JS's questions could be helpful.

    On a completely different note, the Colin McGinn sexual harassment case out of U Miami is a really interesting one, as there's conflicting (written) evidence about whether it was mutual/consensual or not: Was Philosophy Prof. Colin McGinn’s Story Really a Clear-Cut Case of Sexual Harassment?
     
    #152 futureapppsy2, Nov 18, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2017
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  4. DynamicDidactic

    DynamicDidactic Ass of Prof

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    I had no idea this thread exploded.

    I am sorry about my "juicy gossip" comment. In hindsight, it was in poor taste and had an unintended effect. I am glad to read that numerous posters have mentioned that the topic is extremely important to discuss.
     
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  5. DynamicDidactic

    DynamicDidactic Ass of Prof

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    Do you mind sharing this portion? Does it differ for undergrad vs grad courses?

    We are required to include Title IX info on our syllabi but that is very different.
     
  6. MCParent

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    I teach UG human sexuality, so it is a bit different bc frank discussions of sexuality happen in class. I cover that elsewhere in the syll. The sexual harassment line is in addition to title IX stuff that is mandatory, and is placed in the section covering classroom behavior and email. So elsewhere it says we'll discuss sexuality openly and respectfully, and also says:

    Any forms of sexualized communication or sexual harassment directed at other students during class, at me, or at the TAs will be handled through the student conduct office. If you encounter what you believe to be sexualized communication or harassment from the teaching staff for this course, you may bring your concerns to me and/or contact the university ombuds and/or dean of students (contact).

    And then in class I say more about what sexualized communication is with some examples, and I say what an ombuds is.

    I haven't prepped my new grad syll yet. It'll probably be similar.
     
  7. PsychScience

    PsychScience right hand on green

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    In retrospect, despite the consensual nature of your relationship, would you describe it as exploitative? Or as an abuse of power on the part of the faculty member? It sounds like it might have been, but I'm curious if that is just an outsiders perspective.

    These comments in particular concern me.

    It sounds like it was fairly well known in the department that you were in a relationship with a married faculty member, and yet no one checked-in with you to see if you felt safe in that dynamic? This is additionally concerning given that the Dept head thought they might need to involve Title IX. That gives me a reasonable suspicion that they had some pre-existing concerns about potential harm and/or abuse. I don't know, perhaps I'm being naive, but it seems like someone should have asked. I get that it might have been an uncomfortable situation to ask about, but geez.

    Again, I'm curious, what your perspective is after the fact. Do you believe that someone should have confronted the faculty member and/or intervened on your behalf?

    I guess, I'm just struggling with the fact that there seemed to be widespread acceptance of a situation in the department which genuinely has a layer of (or at least potential for) exploitation. And it raises the question, for me at least, what is the role of others in the equation? Your situation, in particular is an important one for discussion because although it was a consensual relationship between two adults, this alone does not remove it entirely from the realm of abusive. And silence on the part of the department, to me, is complicity.
     
  8. Psycycle

    Psycycle Psychologist

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    Nothing has surprised me more than the repeated willingness of those in power to pretend something isn't a problem.
     
  9. temppsych123

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    I have been following this thread for awhile now, and I appreciate the willingness of individuals to share their experiences, whatever they may be. I also really appreciate your willingness, DynamicDidactic, to walk back your "juicy gossip" comment and acknowledge how that can (and it seems did) have a negative impact on others reading/posting.

    I am female, my partner is male, and we met while we were both graduate students in the same department (different areas). I have not experienced instances of impropriety, harassment, assault, or abuse during my time in academia, which seems more like sheer luck than anything else. My partner has had a few students imply offers of sexual favors for improvements in their grades, which he has always rebuffed.

    I think the difficult part about consensual relationships within the same department but across different levels of power (professor to grad student, grad student to undergrad student, etc.) is that power dynamics can change over time, and what began as a consensual relationship with limited power imbalances could, perhaps, become more problematic later. For example, let's say Prof A wants to date Grad Student B and they are in the same area, but not in the same lab, and Prof A doesn't teach courses that Grad Student B will take. Seems like each person could consent and all is good, right? What happens if, sometime later, Prof A gets assigned to review Grad Student B's comps/quals, and doesn't think it's an issue, but Grad Student B does? What if the instructor of record on a required class gets switched so Prof A is now teaching it, and Grad Student B needs to take the course to graduate? What if Prof A ends up being abusive outside of the department/professional context, and Grad Student B wants to end it, but doesn't know how because Prof A is close friends with Grad Student B's advisor? It just seems like there are a lot of potential situations where Grad Student B could consent to the relationship at the beginning without coercion, but then end up in a coercive situation in the future with little recourse. Not to say that this occurring is inevitable, but you don't know how likely it is until it's already happening.

    I also think there's something important about acknowledging that *perceived* power is different than *actual* power, and you can definitely have coercive/abusive behavior with the former even without the latter. Take, for example, an undergraduate student and a grad student TA. I've often heard the "just wait until they're not in your class anymore, once grades are done, and then it's fine" line, which sounds nice, but assumes that undergrad students know how much power grad students do or do not have in a particular department. For example, I could easily see an undergraduate student in a previously-consensual-but-now-coercive-or-abusive relationship with a grad student feeling trapped in the relationship for fear of what the graduate student would tell other faculty or grad students in the department about them (what if they want to go to grad school there, or want a letter of reference from a prof that is the grad student's mentor, etc.), even if the grad student doesn't actually have any sway over those things objectively speaking.

    Just my 2c.
     
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  10. WisNeuro

    WisNeuro Board Certified Neuropsychologist
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    At what point can two individuals at different levels of authority engage in a mutually consensual relationship. Or, do you hold that the power differential would make the consensual aspect impossible? Yes, there is still the aspect of the program not checking in. But, if someone had checked in on the student and they asked for privacy and acknowledged that there was no problem, would that have made it alright?
     
  11. Psycycle

    Psycycle Psychologist

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    Well, I think these situations are complex, and that's part of the problem. I wasn't entirely referencing sexual relationships/impropriety (although I know that is the topic of the thread) - but I have seen power abused over and over and over in different places. And not always as expected; not to name drop Foucault but to name drop Foucault, power has a way of flipping around and coming and going and not looking like one expects it to look. I think checking in needs to happen, and then more specific details of the situation need to be explored.
     
  12. PsychScience

    PsychScience right hand on green

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    I'm not so black and white in my thinking to believe that it is totally impossible for a relationship to be consensual with a power differential present. There are perhaps a few situations (therapist-patient, for example) where the power differential unquestionably and absolutely precludes any kind of romantic relationship, but outside of this I recognize that adults are going to adult. This can be true. And at the same time, it can also be the case that a romantic relationship with a power differential could present with unique concerns, which include the potential for abuse.

    Given this, my bigger issue is that the program did not, in fact, check-in. Why not? Why did no one ask? And in the event that harm or abuse was present, do they hold any responsibility for never having asked?
     
  13. PsychScience

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    To me, this is the importance of this thread. Many of us started coming to SDN when we were students (I know I did), but now many of us are are in positions of authority and power ourselves. So it is absolutely worth critically examining what our role (as faculty, as advisers, as supervisors) in these situations should be. And sometimes what that entails isn't always so clear. So why not talk about it?
     
  14. Psycycle

    Psycycle Psychologist

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    I first came to this forum when I returned to undergrad to get my credentials improved for admission to grad school. I'm now a supervisor and licensed psychologist, and I think that we all should be reflecting on power and authority. I was put in some terrible positions during my process of becoming a psychologist. I was not sexually harassed until I joined the workforce. Power is a very tricky thing, and it's hard to know when you have it, and then how to navigate it is very complicated.
     
  15. msgeorgeeliot

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    [Redacted]

    Thanks again to all who weighed in. I promise to interpret “likes” on this post as a show of support, versus liking the substance of my story.
     
    #164 msgeorgeeliot, Nov 21, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2018
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  17. PsychScience

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    @msgeorgeeliot, Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry that you had to go through such a traumatic experience. I also believe your reflections, as painful as they must be to share, will be helpful to others.

    If you feel willing to reflect some more, can I ask, what would have been helpful to you at the time? From peers? From other mentors or faculty in the department? I know it's not your job to enlighten us, so if you don't want to respond, I totally get and respect that.

    I don't know how I missed this post.

    But gosh. If there is any summary statement of this thread. This should be it.
     
  18. PhDPlz2011

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    @msgeorgeeliot thank you for sharing your story. It really reinforces for me the importance of speaking up when something seems off, even at the risk of personal discomfort. Your story also made me think about the importance of psychologists in leadership intentionally building a culture in which faculty, staff, and students are trained to understand consent and power and clear avenues for seeking support are available. As an example, my graduate program had an identified group of students and faculty who were available to confidentially consult around interpersonal and intergroup challenges that arose between students, between faculty, or in student-faculty relationships. I wonder if you might have been comfortable seeking guidance from a group like that. My intuition is that such a group might be more impactful if sexual misconduct were explicitly mentioned as an area of focus. I'm not going to ask you to respond because you've already put so much emotional labor and time into this thread, but if you do respond I would be interested to know your thoughts.
     
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  19. itsabitzzzz

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    Thanks for your questions. Was the relationship explotative? I’m not sure. I don’t think that the faculty member was intentionally trying to exploit me—she helped me through some really rough times—but I think she just fell in love with me (and vice versa) and went with it, because, well, love is powerful. I do think that her being faculty gave her power in this relationship, and like I said, I was always aware in the back of my mind that she could hurt me if things ended, which she kind of did.

    I think the other faculty and students kind of burried their heads in the sand because the aspect of her being married made them really uncomfortable, so they kind of ignored things to avoid thinking that this person who clearly loved her husband also acted like she was in love with me. Actually, when the relationship ended, I reached out to couple of her former/my colleagues (faculty who used to work in the department but no longer did) for advice on how to handle the authorship situation, they told me not to tell the department head because it wouldn’t be fair to my ex and might hurt my ex’s career and also said that maybe her behavior (telling me she loved me everyday for months on end, talking of kissing me as reinforcement, having conversations about how she just fell In love with me, extreme emotional intimacy, etc) was maybe not intentionally non-platonic (which I don’t buy because there were hundreds of insistenced of this behavior over months and months... at some point, you know what you’re doing). I think the department head didn’t ask in part because he didn’t want to raise a potential Title IX/faculty rules issue and because he, not being on social media, really didn’t have much hard evidence. I was actually really anxious to tell him about the relationship because I knew that dating a married faculty member didn’t look wonderful for me and because I didn’t really want to get her in any trouble—I just wanted authorship to be handled appropriately.

    I think the general culture of extremely loose student-faculty boundaries in the department in general (which is both good and bad, in my experience) also played a role.
     
    #167 itsabitzzzz, Nov 21, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
  20. itsabitzzzz

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    Also, I do wish someone would have asked. It would have removed a lot of the anxiety associated with figuring out how to handle our joint work after we broke up had someone already known about our relationship.
     
  21. cara susanna

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    @msgeorgeeliot, thank you for sharing your story. I am not sure if you are seeking validation, yet I want to provide it regardless.

    That story about the band teacher makes me think of Brock Turner and how he tried to become a public speaker at college campuses on the dangers of alcohol (as though drinking was the real problem). I'm pretty sure that he knows that what he did was wrong, though, because he ran away when he was caught in the act.
     
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  22. procrastin8r

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    @msgeorgeeliot thank you for your courage and strength to share (in what I perceive to be not a particularly safe space)

    I'd like to invite everyone in this discussion to reflect on fight vs. flight vs. freeze responses that are lightning-fast and difficult for most of us to control. Specifically,

    1. If you see questionable behavior between faculty and student, yet the student does not voice their concerns nor appears to be distinctly uncomfortable - are you possibly witnessing a freeze response? I venture to say that waiting for the potential victim to speak up and otherwise minding our own business may be unrealistic. It's possible that msgeorgeeliot's fellow students were waiting for her to speak up the whole time, not realizing that her silence may be her freeze response, rather than compliance.

    2. As we reflect on the process in this thread, including many uncomfortable topics and the flinging of criticisms - are we possibly witnessing fight responses? If so, what is the way forward?
     
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  23. temppsych123

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    @msgeorgeeliot, thank you, thank you, thank you for this. As you said, having this kind of dialogue is hard work for you, and you're under no obligation at all to continue responding, but it is very much appreciated.

    @carasusanna, the idea of Brock Turner getting paid to be a speaker about the dangers of alcohol makes me sick.

    One thing I try to do, across the board, is reach out to people who are visibly upset about something. It honestly doesn't matter to me what the "something" is; if someone I know (a cohort-mate, fellow student, trainee I'm supervising, basically anyone who is at an equal level of "power" to me or has less power than I do) appears to be upset, struggling, or there's a big change in their behavior or personality, I ask them how they're doing. It seems like, even if people don't know exactly what's going on or with whom, just the basic idea of reaching out to someone else is a way to open a door for communication. "Hey, you were really quiet in class today, and you usually seem really excited to discuss this topic; how're you doing?" for example. It might be that nothing's going on, or that something's going on that you can't do anything about (loss of a family member, stressed about finances, whatever), but at least you've given the person an opportunity to say something, if they're comfortable, and you've indicated that the person's well-being matters to you.
     
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  24. cara susanna

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    I think another issue with combating this is the tendency of victims to blame themselves or hold themselves responsible. I had an incident a little while back (perpetrator was not a colleague, mind you) and discovered for myself what the freeze response really is. Afterwards, I kept blaming myself for not responding in the way that I thought I should have. Like, responding like I did made me culpable because maybe I could have stopped/prevented it. And keep in mind that I am a trauma therapist who specializes in treating sexual assault, so my job is literally to help people challenge their self-blame cognitions. Yet I fell into that trap, myself.

    What I'm saying is, I'm guessing a factor in survivors not reporting is because they think that they were the ones who did something wrong.
     
  25. Psycycle

    Psycycle Psychologist

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    I was sexually assaulted on the subway. We were jammed together, person to person. I froze. It was so out of the blue, so unexpected, that I think I was trying to figure out what was happening and if what I thought was happening was really happening. That went on for about 30 seconds. Then it became clear that it was happening. I kicked him, hard, and he stopped, people stared at this weird, jerky moving woman, and I got off the subway at the next stop. But I didn't yell, didn't scream, didn't find the police, didn't let anyone else know what was happening.
    I told one of my close male friends after it happened, and instead of attacking the man, he attacked my response: "never freeze. you should never have frozen." I was not able to have a friendship with him after that.
    Years later I saw that the man was arrested. I still feel ashamed of my reaction - guilty, complicit.
     
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  26. msgeorgeeliot

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    Thanks to @cara susanna and @Psycycle for sharing your stories. I admire your courage and am sorry that you lived those experiences.

    I appreciated those who asked for my opinion about what I would have wanted back then. I struggle with that inquiry for two reasons. One, it’s painful to remember how alone I felt at that time in my life. Two, the culture was quite different back then: affirmative sexual consent was not really a thing (as far as I know), Anita Hill was publicly railroaded, social media didn’t exist, only MDs had mobile phones, etc. For some reason, these intertwined factors make it tough for me to share a solution-focused retrospective. I find it easier to think about what is possible in the present day to discourage sexual harassment in academia, so I’ll focus my comments there.

    I appreciate @procrastin8r for contextualizing this within a fear-response framework. It reminds me that safety is the fundamental, unmet need at the core of fighting, fleeing, or freezing. In the realm of sexual harassment, I have a few preliminary thoughts on how to improve safety for individuals and academic institutions alike, and maybe decrease safety for people who knowingly cause harm:
    • Create a culture in which sexual harassment is operationally defined, openly discussed, and appropriately maligned. This could be done in many ways: e.g., state this as a value in new student orientation, take a page from the syllabus of @MCParent, create informal, perhaps student-to-student systems for consultation on this issue (as @PhDPlz2011 suggested), create formal channels for reporting harassment outside of existing “chains of command,” etc. We can consider lessons in advocacy from allies of those who have experienced MST (military sexual trauma) in particular.
    • Lead with believing people — both women and men — who report harassment, whether it occurs downward (faculty to student) or upward (student to faculty). I believe this can be done in a skillful way that does not invalidate due process for anyone concerned. On the downward side, we can consider lessons in advocacy from all types of organizations that aim to protect racial, sexual, and other vulnerable minority populations. On the upward side, I am not sure where to look for useful lessons, but maybe others have some ideas here.
    • Emphasize a zero-tolerance policy for intimate relationships where there is a power imbalance. No institution wants to be the sex police, but the alternative is becoming untenable from a moral as well as a liability perspective. (For real, who wants critical research to be derailed because the brilliant PI thinks that he deserves sexual attention from research assistants?) Relatedly, if an existing, non-power-imbalanced relationship becomes power-imbalanced, both parties might disclose the relationship to protect their own interests — as well as the institution’s — from gray-area liability in the future.
    • Organizationally, do not promote the careers of people who have sexually perpetrated against others. Per the OP from @DynamicDidactic — this is happening in the most ivory of our towers.
    • Don’t be a bystander. I’ll take the risk of suggesting that this goes beyond interrupting an assault (with all due thanks to those who do this). I think it also goes beyond approaching a person who is in obvious distress. If we consider individual safety to be a communal responsibility (and that might be a big “if” for some), I would argue that it’s everyone’s job to risk personal discomfort in approaching potential victims as well as potential perpetrators. Per the latter: we should talk to people and organizations that may be committing harm in perpetrating or enabling sexual harassment. Ask them what’s up, and ask what they are doing about it to prevent future harm. To be clear: I realize that this is a very gray area, can be tough to execute, and may involve personal/professional discomfort or repurcussions. I would also argue that this is the hazy dividing line between being supportive and being an advocate. I appreciate everyone on the big-picture right side of the line (to paraphrase @erg923 — sexual harassment = bad, reporting perpetrators = good). I also hope that this dialogue might influence some supporters to become advocates, with no expectation that advocacy requires you to sacrifice your Saturdays to being a social justice warrior (per @erg923 ).
    I’m sure that many of you have other — perhaps better! — ideas, some of which may directly or indirectly challenge my own. I welcome all responses, particularly those from the apparently thousands of readers of this thread who have not audibly spoken. I’m guessing that a big portion of the “lurkers” are currently more anxious about immediate threats to safety (e.g., “will I match, or will I die unmatched and alone”), but I’d be particularly interested in hearing from current students, and professors too, on what we can do — perhaps involving the wise use of technology — to make academia safer for everyone.
     
  27. researchgirl

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    I love the thoughts on how to improve safety that msgeorgeeliot. I wanted to add something to the 'don't by a bystander' point. This extends beyond sexual harassment/assault and into the realm of sexism and gender bias in the workplace, as well.

    I am a young and junior female faculty member, and one of my primary mentors is a much older male with a lot of power/seniority. He's never crossed lines with me or with anyone else that I have witnessed or been made aware of as it relates to sexual harassment, sexual assault, or inappropriate relationships.

    Recently, he told me that he has been trying to be more aware of his own biases and would appreciate me calling him out on sexist/biased behavior, whether directed towards me or just witnessed by me. He also offered himself as a resource to discuss if I felt I was being treated unfairly by others, stating that he would be both willing to guide me on how to advocate myself and/or step in on my behalf and advocate for me. We talked about how stepping in for me is sometimes not the best answer - e.g., as a professional I need to stand up for myself, but how in some cases harnessing his power as a White male and senior faculty member might be advantageous.

    This conversation, and follow up conversations we've had on the topic, have been extremely helpful to me and helped me to feel safer in the workplace - although most of my coworkers are good people who I doubt would engage in egregious behavior, I now also feel like if that were to be the case, I have a powerful advocate.

    Similarly, I try to invite my trainees to come to me with concerns about the way they are being treated - by other faculty, by staff at our institution, by patients, etc., and let them know that I would like to problem solve with them how to best address their concerns and ensure they feel safe in their working environment. I try to include myself in the bucket of "people who could be causing a problem" and welcome direct feedback about my problematic behavior, while also making sure they know other ways to report problematic behavior if telling me isn't the right option for some reason. I also try to bring this topic up not just once at the beginning of a working relationship, but throughout the course of my work with trainees, so they know I'm serious about the subject.

    I think that when those of us in positions of power admit to those we have power over that we are flawed and have biases and invite them to call us on that, or bring concerns to us, we take one small step towards preventing or stopping some of the inappropriate behavior we know is occurring in academia.

    (Also I want to clarify that I'm not lumping sexual harassment in with sexual assault, or lumping sexist/bias behavior in with either one, but I do think that they are related to one another and that this approach might be one small way that those of us with some amount of power can make a more positive impact.)
     
    #175 researchgirl, Nov 30, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
  28. msgeorgeeliot

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    ...And then there’s this story in the NYT today. I’m trying to think of how to link this post to psychology in a debate-centric, data-centric, highly logical way, but I’m just too dang tired.

    Brock Turner Is Appealing His Sexual Assault Conviction
    Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student and champion swimmer who was found guilty in March 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, is appealing his conviction.

    A 172-page brief filed on Friday by Mr. Turner’s lawyer, Eric Multhaup, said Mr. Turner did not get a fair trial for several reasons, including the exclusion of testimony by character witnesses who spoke of his swimming career and his performance in school and attested to his honesty, the appeal said.

    About 60 pages focus heavily on how intoxicated the victim, known as Emily Doe, was on the night of the attack.
    ...

    Mr. Turner’s appeal takes issue with the prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci’s many references to the Dumpster during the trial, particularly her repeated use of the phrase “behind the Dumpster.”

    The appeal said the use of the phrase “implied an intent on the appellant’s part to shield” his activities from others and “implied moral depravity, callousness, and culpability on the appellant’s part because of the inherent connotations of filth, garbage, detritus and criminal activity frequently generally associated with Dumpsters.”

    Brock Turner Is Appealing His Sexual Assault Conviction
     
  29. WisNeuro

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    Psychologist
    An unfortunate reminder that there are tiers of the criminal justice system. If you happen to be white, affluent, and have connections, you face minimal consequences for your actions. The only thing I'm surprised about is why this human piece of garbage decided to put himself back into the spotlight after his gift of a sentence initially.
     

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