Santa Barbara County Superior Court gives sentence to UCSB professor post-anti-abortion confrontation
Feminist Studies professor Mireille Miller-Young was sentenced to 108 hours of community service, 10 hours of anger management, three years of probation and was ordered to pay almost $500 of restitution this month after charges prompted by a confrontation between her and an anti-abortion group protesting on campus this past winter quarter.
In March, Miller-Young engaged in a confrontation with pro-life group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, who were distributing literature and displaying large signs featuring graphic images of aborted fetuses at the Arbor. The plaintiffs allege the confrontation ended with Miller-Young assaulting 16-year-old Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust member Thrin Short and stealing the group’s sign, to which Miller-Young subsequently plead no contest in July to three charges of misdemeanor battery, grand theft and vandalism.
The ruling came from Judge Brian Hill of Santa Barbara County Superior Court and represents the conclusion of the People v. Mireille Miller-Young criminal case, ongoing since March.
In the police report, Miller-Young acknowledges that she “probably should not have taken their poster” and later destroy it but “also suggested that the group violated her right,” particularly her “‘personal right to go to work and not be in harm.’” The police report continues, “Miller-Young elaborated that one of the reasons she had felt so alarmed is because she is about to have the test for Down Syndrome” for her unborn child.
Miller-Young currently serves as an Advisory Editor for the journal Porn Studies, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal covering the study of pornography. It was established in 2014 by Routledge publishing group and is the first of its kind, with contributing authors from the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe. She declined to comment due to the nature of her case, and her attorney Catherine Swynsen and prosecutor Ron Zonen could not be reached for comment.
Film and media studies professor Constance Penley, a close colleague of Miller-Young who has taught a class on pornographic film since 1993 and has co-edited The Feminist Porn Book, responded to criticism posed by pro-life advocates regarding Miller-Young’s field of study and said the study pornography is not any different from studying another form of media.
“One of the main things I want to do, and this is what you learn in my class, is let’s not ‘exceptionalize’ porn,” Penley said. “Let’s just put it on the spectrum with all other forms of film and popular culture.”
According to Penley, the stigma attached to the study of pornography is the result of a lack of knowledge about the subject and its deviation from social norms.
“Let’s just look at it as an industry among other media industries … this puts it in the realm of things that can and should be studied,” Penley said. “There shouldn’t be areas of our culture that we just say we can’t go there.”
There are currently two petitions on Change.org regarding the March incident, one requesting support from Chancellor Henry T. Yang for Miller-Young, and one requesting disciplinary action be taken against her. The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust petition asks that UCSB conduct a full investigation on Miller-Young’s conduct and enact a disciplinary response that will “restore confidence in UCSB’s commitment to protecting free speech.”
UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young responded to the incident with a letter to the student body stating that “freedom and rights are not situational … we cannot pick and choose what views are allowed to be aired.”
Peter Bonilla, director of campus free speech organization FIRE, or Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said he interpreted the letter as a condemnation of both the actions of Miller-Young and the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust and believes the situation should have been handled differently.
“The best way to combat speech that you disagree with or you find offensive is to respond not with censorship but with more speech that can counter the ideas you disagree with and lead to a productive dialogue,” Bonilla said.
[Correction: This article incorrectly referred to Santa Barbara County Superior Court as Santa Barbara Supreme Court. That is incorrect, the court’s correct name is Santa Barbara County Superior Court.]
[Correction: This article incorrectly referred to People v. Miller-Young as a civil case. That is incorrect, the case was tried as a criminal case.]
This story appeared on Wednesday, August 27, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.