Update From Academia: Sexual Assault for Fun and Literal Profit | Vol. 4 / No. 25.1

Photo: John Morgan, CC BY 2.0

I had about three different articles that I was planning to write for this week, all with their own pros and cons. And then, as often happens, I read something that made me mad. You may or may not be aware of an article I wrote almost exactly a year ago, in which I discussed sexism and sexual harassment in academia. One of the focus points of the article was the case of Sujit Choudhry, the dean of UC Berkeley’s Law School, and the sexual harassment case brought against him by his former executive assistant, Tynan Sorrell.    Choudhry admitted to hugging and kissing Sorrell, and in general touching his female employees in ways he would never touch a male employee. He had his pay docked and had to step down as dean, but kept his position as a professor. You will be so glad and shocked to know that a year later, with a lot of additional wokeness and a sexual predator in the White House, he will continue to face basically no consequences for his actions! Btw, it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, everybody. That just felt relevant for some reason.

According to Sam Levin at the Guardian, not only will Choudhry not face official disciplinary charges, he will also get to keep his tenure and receive funding for his research and travel. I’m super, super certain he will learn his lesson from all this. Per Levin,

Although university investigators concluded that Sujit Choudhry had sexually harassed his executive assistant while he was dean, the university is ending its disciplinary process and allowing the professor to remain a faculty member “in good standing” until he “voluntarily” resigns next year, according to newly released documents.

So, like many, many men before him, Choudhry will have abused a female subordinate, and instead of being punished for it, will be allowed to resign gracefully. Until then, everyone will just cheerfully pretend like the reason that he isn’t teaching classes has nothing to do with the fact that he put his face and hands all over his assistant. And he’ll get paid during the period, to boot. I feel like that sends such an awesome message. Don’t you feel like that sends an awesome message?

Oh, also, he won’t be allowed to teach classes (because apparently someone somewhere has something resembling a brain) but he will have access to research funds and travel reimbursements equaling more than $97,000. Just fyi, the average salary for a victim’s advocate (like say a victim of sexual assault or harassment) is $39,263. That just also felt relevant for some reason.

This part is worth repeating in full, mostly because it makes me wanna scream forever:

Separate from the resolution in Choudhry’s disciplinary process, the university and Choudhry also reached a settlement agreement with Sorrell in the lawsuit she filed. As part of that agreement, Chouhdry has agreed to pay $50,000 to her attorneys and $50,000 to not-for-profit groups that focus on sexual harassment and assault.

Sorrell is not receiving any money from Choudhry, according to Levy. The university has not disclosed the terms of its settlement with Sorrell, but a spokesman, Dan Mogulof, said: “Sorrell has received payment for the injury she claims she incurred as a result of Prof Choudhry’s actions.”

Steven Herman, Choudhry’s attorney, said in an email that the settlements “let him, and importantly, his wife and children, move on from a difficult situation that has dragged on for over a year”. The agreement with the university, he claimed, meant UC “has explicitly recognized that he has always been, and remains, a tenured faculty member in ‘good standing’”.

Good. Standing. Let that sink in for a second. This man gets to assault a subordinate, donate to some charities, and remain in good standing.

As the woman he assaulted, Tynan Sorrell, puts it: ‘“This deal insults all who suffer harassment at the hands of those with power and privilege.”’ When powerful men are able to assault women with impunity, to face charges and fines and walk away essentially scot-free, it sends an encouraging message to would-be assaulters and a chilling message to survivors. It tells men who commit assault that even if they do it, even if they are caught, even if they admit to it, that nothing will happen to them. There is nothing to fear. They have every reason to violently assert their power and control over women, because the worst thing that can happen is that they will be asked to gracefully step down with a $97,000 going-away present. (Or they might get elected president.) And survivors get told essentially the same thing. Even if they are the “perfect” victim (which doesn’t exist), even if they report what happened, even if their abuser admits to what he did, nothing will happen to him. No justice will be served. He is wealthy and powerful and it is seen as a higher societal good to protect powerful abusers than to protect their survivors.

…I don’t have anything witty to end this week with, folks. Go donate to RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Resource Center. Maybe if survivors have as much money and resources as their abusers, their abusers will see consequences to their actions.


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying desperately not to scream at the latest abominable headlines, she studies gender in popular culture.


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