Unless otherwise stated, phrases in quotations are lifted from our email correspondence.
Several weeks ago, I sent “I Had an Affair with my Hero, a Philosopher Who’s Famous for being ‘Moral’” to Thought Catalogue and to the blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” One of the editors of the latter contacted me immediately and put me in touch with another victim, who put me in touch with lawyers working on a suit against my hero. I told them that I had also submitted my piece to a pop culture blog, but that the two-week publication timeframe had passed. I was under the impression that it was no longer going to be published. Furthermore, since I have spoken to the lawyers, I pretended to continue my affair to gather more information and emails for the case. He was still very keen to keep me as his secret mistress, and I had a few weeks before he would arrive at the city where I lived. He was suspicious because I’ve repeatedly told him that I found him reprehensible. He even asked “I don’t know why you still care about me — to protect international womanhood?”
Information about which I was previously unaware now renders some of the statements in my original article inaccurate. For example, a few weeks ago I thought that “he will never make a move on these young scholars” and “he will not get involved with someone who is officially his student.” I was unaware of the instances of sexual harassment he’s perpetrated. Come to think of it, he once told me about how he got a blowjob from a student in University C when he was a professor there.
For months, I struggled to reconcile the image I had of my hero with this flawed and insecure man. In the end, I realized that the man I was with was not only flawed but is a disturbed master manipulator. After speaking to the other young women, I started to see my own experience differently.
When we met at a conference, he singled me out amongst a group of students, talking to me directly about how he had in the works several charity projects for the poor people in my country. I don’t know how he knew which country I am from. Like the other PhD students with whom I’ve connected, I fit his physical type—all of us are either Asians (especially Chinese virgins) or Latinas (especially Catholics). He initiated contact with me, looked up my email address on the web, and told me the following in an email: “Let me know when you’re ready, lots of job openings cross my desk, so maybe I can help you find a place where you can be productive in the global justice universe.” This offer was made despite the fact that he was not at my presentation and, as my friend who witnessed our interaction pointed out, I was too starstruck to compose a coherent sentence. I would’ve probably never emailed him first. In my groupie mind, he was on a distant and unreachable pedestal.
I was so smitten with and flattered by the attention from a person whom I considered a living legend that I was blind to all the warning signs. I ignored the pattern in which we would be talking about philosophy and then he would steer the conversation towards sexual topics. He told me very detailed stories about his nymphomaniac mother’s many affairs. I ignored the fact that he invited me to talk about philosophy when he really wanted to talk about his previous lovers and the women that pursued him, repeating several times that he didn’t know why he gets all this attention because he’s distinctively average-looking. I felt so privileged to be the special confidant of this global justice hero. (What a groupie.) He told me stories, which he’d say he hasn’t told anyone before, commented upon how himself and heimelig, I made him feel.
I was sincerely trying to date him, but he did not know how to have a relationship. He did not know how to handle me because he had been far more coercive and manipulative with others. He had to nag me into sending him my paper on his work, which he repeatedly said he would get published. I hope you appreciate how tempting this was. The dream of any grad student who wants an academic career is to publish. I eschewed his offers of bribery, because I was trying to build a relationship. I knew our credentials would make equality impossible, but I was going to strive for it anyway. However, for him, a relationship consisted of tit for tat. He even tried to give me cash once and offered to fly me home to visit my family, to which I jokingly responded, are you trying to be my sugar daddy? When I asked him why he keeps trying to bribe me, why he’s attempting to forge a quid pro quo relationship, he said in email “I never meant to bribe you… I just wanted to show you how much I care for you.” I explained that I have worked too hard for so long on my academic career and political projects and that accepting his help would make our relationship indispensable to me for the wrong reasons. I now realize that this explanation was unnecessary — he knew exactly what he was doing.
I was jealous that he had all these young special close female friends. I accused him of befriending exotic young women in order to pave the path for “love and romance.” I now realize that a better term would be “grooming.” His tactics are not new:
1. Find naïve, innocent, sexually inexperienced young women: He repeatedly told me that I was an aberration from his type, because I was not sexually inexperienced. (Let me beat you to it. Slut.) He proudly told me that the majority of the women he’s been with were either virgins or had had only one boyfriend.
2. Convert the professional relationship into a personal one. Establish trust and a close personal friendship with the person. My hero’s personal favorite non-professional activity seems to be cycling. He regularly takes the young women that he “mentors” cycling with him, and even told me of how one of his PhD supervisees (whom I can name if needed) called him to say that he got an erection when she was sitting in between his legs on his bicycle. He said that out of all his lovers, I was the fastest one to go to bed with him. He said it usually took him many months, even years, before young women went to bed with him.
3. Ask to meet her family to indicate that you are a serious and caring mentor. This would further legitimize the mentoring.
4. Make yourself indispensable to the young woman by dangling career advancement opportunities, make their academic careers reliant on your close special “friendship.” He explicitly told me that his close special friends would have never gotten into prestigious universities without him.
5. In order to elicit pity, spin your tale of your lonely existence and conceal the fact that you’ve been living with a partner for three decades. If you are cornered into admitting that you have a partner, appeal to her pity by claiming that you are being coerced into staying in a loveless relationship with someone you can only talk “banal” things with.
6. Once the close special friendship is established, once their careers are reliant on your personal relationship with them, go to a conference in a foreign country. By this point, you’d have been too close, too good “friends,” you would’ve already met her parents and trust is already established, that it would be too awkward to refuse sharing a hotel room. Point out that the money that would be used for a separate room would be funds better used for your charitable projects.
This was the recipe. Though they are young, impressionable, and looked like — as he often put it — teenagers, the women (that I know of) are over the age of consent. I tried to convince him many times that what he is doing—having affairs behind his de facto wife’s back with young female scholars—is wrong. He insisted, however, that he has done and will continue to do no wrong with his behavior. He said that he needs “love and romance” in his life, that he cannot bear the thought that “his last passionate kiss is behind him.” For him, “love and romance” are constitutive of leveraging and demonstrating the power he has acquired through his campaigns for global justice, to showing off to impressionable young women from the developing world his many charitable projects in their home countries. When I told him he shouldn’t be sleeping with his inexperienced young admirers, he told me that I should tell that to all the young women that want to go to bed with him.
I considered revealing my identity so I can stand by my claims, but all the people, who have my best interest in mind, insist that if I do this, I can forget about having a career in academia. There’s a part of me that almost wants to say that if I would get penalized for exposing a serial sexual predator, then to hell with this profession. If I can’t succeed in this discipline because I did the right thing, then this is not the place I thought it was, and I wouldn’t want to be here anyway.
Let me now make clear my motivation. I was a sexually abused child. The first time I was abused was when I was three years old, and my grandmother saw it. She took me to the bathroom, cleaned me, and told me not to tell anyone about it. As a veteran women’s organizer and as someone who always spoke loudly against sexual abuse, I know far too many sexually abused women. All the sexually abused women that I know received the same message — without fail — whenever they tried to talk about their sexual abuse: Shut up, and do not tell anyone else about it. Despite my many obvious character deficiencies, I am now officially an adult, and I’m done with people telling me not to talk about sexual predators.
The reason why this keeps going on, why sexual discrimination, abuse, and harassment is so pervasive, is precisely because no one wants to talk about it. It makes people uncomfortable; this stuff should remain private. So many people read, shared, judged, and insulted me because of what I wrote. To the strong minority that applauded me for speaking out, thank you.
When I found out that it was known to people that he has had previous sexual harassment cases, I was furious. Why do we not know about this? Why didn’t those tenured academics say anything? Are we seriously accepting this kind of behavior from an esteemed moral philosopher? Is this supposed to be normal? He is an influential public figure and world-renowned academic. He is around impressionable and sexually inexperienced young women all the time. It is in the public’s interest to know about this. One of his victims attempted suicide and is still cutting herself. Another has been in psychiatric treatment for years. He does not restrict himself to graduate students.
I opened a can of worms that was begging to be opened. I brought this topic to a public forum. I got people thinking, debating, arguing, and name-calling. I don’t mind getting called a slut because I want people to think about what this term means, signifies, and represents. Let’s think and talk about our norms. Without forgetting that there are cases where legal lines have been breached, let’s talk about these blurred lines. Let’s talk about whether it’s wrong for powerful men to offer career advancement opportunities, forge special friendships, in the hopes of bedding young women. This isn’t just a one-off thing about my affair with my hero. This is about our profession, culture, practices, and norms. This is about a rampant form of corruption in our discipline that thrives in a culture of silence. This is about all those people who said I am naïve and stupid for being shocked that a man who devoted his life to justice would be capable of this behavior. Let’s ask whether famous moral philosophers have a moral responsibility to live a minimally decent life. Let’s ask who would be the authority on what would count as a minimally decent life.
When I told him that what he’s doing is an abuse of power, he said all’s fair in love and war. I am calling on all feminists and sympathizers to give him war. The main purpose of this second post is to send an open invitation to anyone who has any information that can help our legal case. People know about what he’s been doing. If you know that he was sharing a hotel room with a student, please come forward and testify as a witness. If you know the names of the students he’s invited to his hotel room, we can find out if he wrote them reference letters.
Sexual harassment lawsuits hardly ever succeed. No woman stands a chance against such powerful figures. Moreover, victims have already endured so much damage and turmoil, rendering them unfit for tedious legal proceedings and unwilling to endure – as the comments on this blog proves – the public tendency to blame victims. This particular kind of sexual harassment is aggravated by the fact that the victims are terrified of compromising their intellectual reputation because this esteemed professor, as he himself told me, played a significant part in getting them into their PhD programs. It is the perfect crime; he ensures that it is in the interest of the victims that they stay silent.
This person is a seasoned sexual exploiter. We cannot expect inexperienced young women to realize that they are being played, because they admire him, not because of the strength of his arguments but for his poverty-alleviating projects, for his perceived moral integrity. They will dismiss their suspicions that he is behaving wrongly because it contradicts their expectations from even a minimally decent person. They will doubt their own sanity if they think their hero is doing something wrong.
So, make no mistake about it, these budding female scholars from the developing world are his victims. As such, we in the feminist community will protect and defend them with everything that we have. They can remain anonymous to the public and get witness protection. If many of us come together, if you can convince your friend who was victimized to come forward with us, we will be an indestructible force, with the potential of having reverberating effects on sexual harassment in our profession.
I hope you can see the bigger picture. I am asking you to join me, circulate this as widely as possible, corroborate his tactics, and help the victim who actually suffered sexual violence in her lawsuit against this man. If you come forward with us, you will have an army of dedicated people behind you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and identify yourself. I will identify myself to you and put you in touch with the influential academics behind us.
By all means, call me naïve and stupid, but I will rage against a world that requires me to expect deceit, manipulation, sexual harassment, and assault from a person celebrated as a champion of the oppressed. Help us bring to justice the man who devoted his life to justice. Please help us launch a legal investigation on this man. Help us find dedicated lawyers that will take this man to court. We have a wealth of information and evidence that we want to submit for a trial. Do it for women, for our discipline, and for the women in our discipline. Ending gender-based discrimination and violence is going to be a long and hard struggle, but this is as good as any other place to start. I am speaking out again because I refuse to give up hope, because I am committed to the view that “what now seems like an eccentric and utopian cause will be an exemplar of what [gender] justice commands.”*
*Pogge, Thomas. 2008. World Poverty and Human Rights. Cambridge: Polity, p. 32.