Sexual assault, but need references from my attacker
October 27, 2019 11:53 PM   Subscribe

Took my mentor teacher out for dinner to ask him to write me a reference. Obviously I should have had my guard much more up. But I never thought of him as a potential threat. [Content Warning: details below the fold]

After supper, I was about to head home. But he wanted to go out for drinks. I know that he doesn't have a lot of friends locally, so I agreed. Who likes to go to bars alone? But I said after two, I needed to head home.

I remember drinking with him, and at some point being outside vomiting and opening up my phone to call a taxi. The next few hours all I have are vague impressions.

When I woke up, I was completely naked in a strange bed. I put on my clothes and when I went to the living room, my boss was sitting on the sofa. He asked how I felt, and when I said disappointed, asked if I meant in him or in myself. He then followed me outside badgering me about what it means for our working relationship and telling me that I seemed into it.

Clearly, I want to move on to a new school now more than ever. But I still need references from him. If we weren't overseas, I would have strongly considered pressing charges. But how in the world do I deal with this logistically?

I took the morning after pill, I guess I need to see about going to the doctor for an STD screening. But how in the world do I explain to any future jobs why I don't want them to contact my mentor teacher?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As you did not mention location here is a list of crisis lines by country to reach out. You do not need to give your name. In addition, you don't have to call one in your country, though it helps to get local resources and understanding.

This is not your fault. You are not at fault.

You don't have to list anybody on your resume/application application and you don't have to provide correct contact info if you feel pressured,. So already you can have some control over that process. People leave and reenter school programs for all kinds of reasons and academia is known for not being friendly, so you may have more success than you think you will.

It is hard to say what procedures are in your area, in the US you can opt to have a medical examination and evidence collection without pressing charges. You really only have upto seven days after the assault to get that done, but every day that passes make evidence collection less likely to be successful. if you wanted to get that and then think about your options at a later date. You could also get a toxicology test done. This does differ based on country so please look at local resources.

Take gentle care of you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:58 AM on October 28, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you.

It's not clear to me what level of teacher/school we are talking about here, but if it's postgraduate, I have been on hiring committee for dozens of academic jobs and we have never even blinked to see a candidate not list their advisor as a reference. There are so many ways those relationships can go wrong, many of which are not the student's fault. Not to mention that advisors die or retire... You can have other referees. If it is earlier in your career there is even less reason for this person to be your only or main reference.

Press charges if you want to. Turn around and never talk to him again if you need to. Call him out publicly if you want to. Do what you need to do. (Although for your own emotional safety I recommend consulting with a counselor or helpline before deciding on any of these actions).

But of all the things to worry about, please don't let his role as a potential reference factor into it. A rapist like this horrible human being also most likely has a reputation for this and other awful behaviours. So is likely that people are used to his students not using him as references and know it's not due to any problem with the students.

Again, I'm so sorry. Stay strong.
posted by lollusc at 2:55 AM on October 28, 2019 [24 favorites]

I am extremely sorry this happened. It is really awful. You did absolutely nothing wrong, and you should feel no sense of guilt or shame in pressing charges against this man immediately.

It may feel as if your entire career rests on this one reference, but once you get a few steps further into work this will not be significant. You may at this stage be considering pressing charges and working with the university to do so, and that should be your priority - as well as making sure of your own emotional health and well-being.

Take backups of all the contact you had with this man leading up the assault. There should be systems within the institution you studied/he works. Contact the well-being advice service first. They will talk with you for your own well-being, but also know exactly how to proceed within the university system if you wish to. Do not hesitate to push everything you have into exposing this man. It is a pressure you do not need, and do not deserve, but trying to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else is something that might give you strength going forwards. Your career will be fine without this reference, as the commenter above suggests, one particular reference is not going to make any difference. You can find that support elsewhere.

Good luck, and stay strong.
posted by 0bvious at 4:24 AM on October 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. It's egregious.

Giving references is a normal part of academia and there are all kinds of options. He can give you a reference, but so can his supervisor, someone else that you've worked with, another department, etc. Also, there are all kinds of reasons people don't select people for references. This will in no way be some kind of stain on your resume/reference list that is any kind of ongoing issue.

I'm not sure where you are in school, but the fact that you felt you had to ask your prof out for dinner to ask for a reference indicates to me that there is something a little off with your prof or your school's culture. In any school I'm familiar with, you should go to what I would call student services and get their support and advice.

I made different choices than I am advising in similar circumstances in school and I blamed myself for years and it did impact my academic career. That is all on that trauma (and prior trauma that set me up for that trauma.) So I understand why you are focused on this reference. But from my own experience, I want to say that first, I do not believe that this professor's reference is the sine qua non of your career - your school will have resources to give you what you need to continue without that reference, and those looking at your references will have other sources of information for their decisions.

Second, please seek support, whether via the school or a hotline or something else, because your spirit and body autonomy are also important, and you are worth getting that support. After I was assaulted, I thought I was fine. When I look back on that time 20 years later, I realize that it was a bit like working with one hand behind my back, and that's what had the longer effect. Get a Team You, not because this will break you, but because you deserve it and good support will mean you are protecting yourself and your career in larger ways than this one letter. Hang in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:09 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

You are not alone and this is not your fault. The same thing happened to one of my sisters. Leave him off as a reference, and if you need to power through to just get out of there, that's okay. Make sure you make space after you're out to process. This is so much to deal with.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:46 AM on October 28, 2019

Consider making an anonymous report to your school’s Title IX/sexual harassment process, even if you graduated a while ago.

People in this campus role can shift the letter of recommendation to someone more appropriate, like the guy’s chair, when detailed information is shared to alert the administration of a trauma-inducing broken stair. The chair might also say Prof X is Unavailable (on administrative leave.)
posted by childofTethys at 7:48 AM on October 28, 2019

OP says they are “overseas,” so presumably Title IX and a lot of the resource structures in American universities are not relevant here.
posted by spitbull at 8:03 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yikes. I'm so sorry this was done to you. First, take care of yourself. If and when you feel safe doing so, do consider reporting this to either the university or law enforcement. Asking this asshole for a letter seems like a terrible idea for many reasons.

It's not clear what level of appointment you're applying for. If you're applying for grad school, I'd suggest leaving it out entirely, which probably won't raise any flags if you have enough other letter writers. Or, if you're worried about it, including a statement at the end like, "note that I have chosen not to include my advisor as a reference for non-academic reasons. I would be happy to discuss this in more detail by telephone if it is a concern." That will tip off anyone who cares that there's something more serious here than someone worried about getting a less-than-glowing letter.

If you're looking for a postdoc/faculty/tenure-track-equivalent position, people are going to spend a lot more time asking questions about everything in your application. I'd suggest phoning up the chair of the committee (or the department secretary or appropriate admin if you can't figure out who that is) to which you're applying and giving a very brief summary of the situation. No need to go into detail, unless you want to. Just say, "I had an unwanted encounter that I consider sexual harassment and I don't feel comfortable asking for a letter." No department I've been in would hold this against you, but they would ask questions if there's no recommendation from an advisor. Saying, "it's a sexual harassment thing," (not to underplay the significance- this is a whole lot worse than most sexual harassment) will eliminate all of those concerns. It's crappy that you have to go out of your way to deal with this in addition to having to experience it, but it might genuinely help when you're competing with 300 people and committees are looking for excuses to discard applications.

If you're applying for non-academic or not-incredibly-academic-aligned jobs in industry, don't worry about it. As long as you have the right number of references, you'll be fine.

If you're looking to apply to college or transfer between colleges, I have no good advice and you should ignore everything I said and figure out who the non-mandatory-reporter councilors are at your school and talk to them, assuming a US context. (The title-IX office can tell you who they are. You don't have to tell them your name to get that information.)
posted by eotvos at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can’t tell from your account if you think he put something in your drink or if you ended up having more drinks than you had originally planned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not your fault if you did and it’s rape either way, but if you think he drugged you, you might also want to get checked out medically.

I’m so sorry that this happened to you and that you’re having to deal with all of this.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:25 AM on October 28, 2019

Obviously I should have had my guard much more up.

This is not your fault. I would encourage you to get a toxicology report of some kind and talk to a doctor, because it sounds like he might have drugged you. It's possible he did this at dinner, before you even went out for drinks. Do you have friends you can talk to? A therapist? A crisis center?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:01 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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