Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist I and many other astrophysicists look up to has been accused of rape by Tchiya Amet who was a student at UT Austin at the time that Neil DeGrasse Tyson was a graduate student TAing her Astronomy 101. As if that wasn’t awful enough Tchiya Amet lived with it for 30 years. Then when she comes forward with a blog post about it her story is met with over a year of solid deafening silence. That this has occurred, and that the response to it has varied from very little support to outright hostility is what I find most disturbing.
Until I say otherwise I am going to suspend my principle belief that the accused must be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Let us accept, as many who tweet on #astroSH have insisted, that no one ever lies about sexual harassment, assault, sexist acts, or anything sexual. (FOR THE SAKE OF BOT SUPPORTING A POSSIBLE VICTIM AND POINTING OUT THE TRUE NATURE OF THE #astroSH MOVEMENT. Read to the bottom of the page where I write about the fact that the presumption of innocence still stands for good reasons and that in reality we should never take any allegation at face value without an actual trial. Which does not mean "calling the victim a liar" either.).
…. In case you missed it, I was a grad student in Astronomy at UT Austin, the same time that Mr Tyson was there. I was studying Galactic Astronomy with the de Vaucoleurs. My dream was to become the first Black Female Astronaut. I was like 15 years ahead of Emma Mae Jamison. I went to his apartment to visit like I did almost every day. He was like my big brother, or so I thought. He offered me a glass of water. I accepted a liquid in a cup made out of a coconut shell. I recall coming back to consciousness briefly, then next thing I remember is seeing him in the hallway the next day. I have lived in this nightmare for 30 years, and it stops today.- Tchiya Amet October 2014 quoted verbatim.
This sounds just like what Bill Cosby was accused of and his accusers are more or less uniformly believed in the popular press and by the general public. The overall story is very plausible. That was something young men did way too often. My mother still reminds me to watch my drink when I go out with anyone. She told me to put a napkin or something like one over my drink. This is not sharing drugs with someone as a willing participant. If getting drunk or high with someone then having sex counts as rape then all the sex at Woodstock was rape. This wasn’t a blurred lines situation.
Tchiya Amet accepted a seemingly innocuous cup of water from her host, a man she respected and trusted. Then, he violated that trust and her body in the most invasive way possible.
Continuing to assume that the accusation is true. The response to it raises troubling implications in so many ways.
This was published a year before #astroSH blew up. Why didn't any of the people who were supposedly so active about this all along say something, or reach out, or even mention this? The details in this account are more proof than most of the tweeted out accusations.
By a factor of a million it is troubling that such a well-known publicly loved astronomer raped someone thirty years ago and suffered no consequences. He was not even brought upon charges. She then had to stay silent while the man who attacked her became more and more successful and popular.
No assembly of words can express how horrible I imagine that must have felt for her.
I want the men who read this to imagine that someone stole ten years of your income. Then used it to invest and make $100,000,000...and then they were on TV being discussed as a financial genius and popular hero. That might be about 1/10 as bad as what Tchiya Amet has lived with.
A very dim and distant second to that is that her very detailed post “End the silence” was met with over a year of silence. That is until she tweeted it out under #astroSH, then it was retweeted by myself and a few others. The to add insult to injury it was said that we were “weaponising” her accusation by tweeting it out then pointing out the lack of response after waiting most of a day.
There are at least two deeply troubling reasons for this.
A black woman who is outside the circle of women who have been in astronomy who has views outside of the mainstream is accusing a more mainstream black male of rape. I will not call out the various white feminist (not all white, not all women) who only seem to care about the problems of cisgender heteronormal white women of upper class status (PhD or better it seems). They know who they are. IF you have been outspoken espousing the belief that ALL accusations must be believed* even without any details; Then don’t believe this one then you are at least a classist, probably racist, and a total hypocrite! Tchiya Amet is the wrong color, and class, and not in the clique that #astroSH is mainly driven by. This allegation makes things like being told “that’s what women are good for while wearing rubber gloves or even being touched, or being let go because of superiors in ability to manage his feelings….as bad as those were are nothing. If you feel offended that the last paragraph might be directed at you, I just take that as an admission that it is a correct description. Sorry not sorry.
Neil Tyson is very popular. Simply because he is popular and well liked people who were willing to believe things that were tweeted without any context or details disbelieve in this case. All someone has to do to be able to rape someone and get away with it … is be popular enough. If they are popular a long detailed accusation will not get any play and they are safe. If they are unpopular half a dozen to a dozen tweets with no context is enough to get you. I thought we were all adults and well beyond this sort of behavior.
END SUSPENSION OF PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE.
I am not a lawyer but ….
It has been thirty years so criminal charges are out of the question.
However, civil lawsuits have more latitude. IF for instance Neil DeGrasse Tyson were to try to sue for libel Tchiya Amet’s defense would be able to introduce any evidence that would prove she is telling the truth. A finding by the preponderance of evidence legal standard, as applied by actual lawyers, that this accusation is true may be the best she can hope for.
Like all I really hope no one would make a false accusation. However, I know all too well sex is one of the main things people lie, deceive, and dissemble about.
Sadly it seems that the only way Tchiya Amet can get real legal redress is in the context of Niel D. Tyson suing for libel. That is the saddest thing of all.
Rape really should be treated like murder when it comes to statutes of limitations.
If Neil Degrasse Tyson is innocent he needs to say something about this.
A little personal context, because my motivations have been questioned. This is why I write what I write.
Even though I called Geoff Marcy a pervert I have been called an apologist because I used the word allegedly. Even though I really laid into Christian Ott and Tim Slater I have been called a troll. For pointing out white feminism when I see it and trying to make #astroSH inclusive of all, and for saying the women involved really should take their cases to court if at all possible…I have been called a misogynist.
I have been very very harsh in my words towards Marcy, Slater, Ott, and now Tyson. Yet I also will stand for the rights of the accused.
This is why.
In high school I was raped. The short version is I was in PE class and came intentionally late so that I could avoid dressing with the boys. While searching the sports complex for my class I heard sound from a side gym. It was a group of older boys playing basketball. When I came in to look for my class I was raped by one of the older boys. No one was around. I told no one about it at all until much later. Eventually the guy wassent to prison for drug charges and got the book thrown at him.
I was also accused once of plotting to kill everyone I know. Local and some national media had reported all sorts of falsehoods and assumptions and rumors as facts. The whole narrative reported was false, some reported had me asking a girl to the prom and then going off when rejected. The only thing I asked any girl about the prom was what they planned on wearing and who they were going with. When I was in jail, on an absurd $500,000 bond lowered to $250,000 , awaiting trial, I hoped that at least some people would remember the basic principle of our legal system. “Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”. Eventually I was exonerated of the charge that I had threatened violence.
*Having been both accuser and accused I can say I know both sides of this. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is the foundation of justice and I am highly suspicious of anyone who opposes that. I am doubly suspicious when the ones who act like arguing for that basic principle are the second most privileged group in the United States of America, white women. Too many men have hung as strange fruit due to that presumption being forgotten. (In some ways they may even have an edge over white males…. When was the last time the 24 hour news covered a missing young white man the way they did Elizabeth Smart or Natalie Holloway?)
No one gets hung anymore… just a few tweets and their whole life can collapse. IF the right kind of person does the tweeting and the accused is the right kind of person.
Justice is slow, deliberate, and careful.
Once again I URGE ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN SEXUALLY HARASSED, LET ALONE RAPED TO SEEK LEGAL COUNSEL AND TRY TO SUE FOR DAMAGES IN ADDITION TO ANY POSSIBLE CRIMINAL CHARGES. Yes you might lose, if you do and the trial is fair, that’s life … but you may also WIN. Justice is not done on Twitter or blogs. You are also not a prisoner of the administrative processes of the university. You have the same rights to legal action as anyone else regardless of what the school says. You have the right to sue even if a prosecutor does not want to proceed with criminal charges. Exercise your rights, stand up for yourselves, do not fear.
As for the idea that court is too hostile a place for a woman which is what has rather ironically also been said to me. A transgender woman who has sued as a pro-selitigant and gotten settlements. I wonder how the three women on the Supreme Court of the United States of America would feel about that notion (not to mention all the other women who practice law)?
For the record I have sought comment from Dr. Tyson. So far there has been no comment on this subject anywhere from him or anyone speaking for him.
UPDATE: As an example that anyone can sue for anything and that the accusers in #astroSH ought to sue the univ.'s and harassers I present this.
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I could have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? -Sojourner Truth Akron Ohio Womens Convention 1851 Emphasis mine.
“When Sojourner Truth rose to speak, many white women urged that she be silenced, fearing that she would divert attention from women’s suffrage to emancipation,” invoking a clear illustration of the degree of racism within the suffrage movement. (source)
Those who say "it is asking too much for victims to go to court". "Going to court is burdensome". "It is misogynist to want victims to go to court where they will be asked hard questions.... the serial harassers should just be put in fired/marked for life/put in jail based on title IX investigation." Anything of that sort IF not the exact words.... reflect on what Sojourner Truth said. Consider that those who are saying "you should not need to go to court" are in actuality treating you as delicate things who can't stand the rigors of the real world. Do you want to be treated like objects that need protection or as equal partners. You don't get to be both.