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Current, Former Students Sue Dartmouth College Over Sex Abuse Accusations

Annemarie Brown, Andrea Courtney, and Marissa Evansin, and from left front row, Sasha Brietzke, Vassiki Chauhan, Kristina Rapuano, take a picture together in New York. The six women, plus one more, have taken legal action against Dartmouth College. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Current, Former Students Sue Dartmouth College Over Sex Abuse Accusations
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Seven women took legal action Thursday against Dartmouth College in the American state of New Hampshire.

The women say three science professors at the school sexually attacked, abused or harassed them. They say the school permitted the professors, all men, to create a culture within their department that supported extreme alcohol use, partying and other conditions that led to sexual crimes.

The accused professors are William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton. They worked in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

The accusers say the professors harassed and touched women sexually, often while partying at drinking places or at the professors’ homes.

Kelley and Whalen are each accused of attacking a student after a night of drinking. They also are accused of trying to get women to have sex with them and punishing those who refused.

The lawsuit says the seven plaintiffs are all scientists and students. It says they were “sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by the Department’s tenured professors and were expected to tolerate increasing levels of sexual predation.”

Dartmouth’s president, Philip Hanlon, praised the women for coming forward. He sent an email to the college community Thursday. It said the college “remains open to a fair resolution of the students’ claims through an alternative to the court process.”

However, Dartmouth has denied accusations that it ignored reports of sex abuse that go back as far as 2002.

The school launched an investigation into the three professors in October 2017. It never released the findings but said it was preparing to dismiss all three. Heatherton retired after being told he would be dismissed. Whalen and Kelley also later resigned.

The Associated Press could not reach Whalen and Kelley for comment.

Heatherton apologized for his poor behavior at conferences. But he said, through a lawyer, that he never socialized or had sexual relations with students. He also said he did not know of such behavior by the other two professors, nor would he have approved it.

His lawyer added, "Professor Heatheron is extremely concerned about being grouped together with the other...professors."

The lawsuit describes an environment in which women’s careers were dependent on men interested mainly in drinking and having sex with the women. Those who refused to go to parties were often professionally ignored, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the three professors would try to “groom” incoming students to make it easier to abuse them. The professors would make comments about students’ physical appearances, give them special attention and then repeatedly ask them to go drink at local places or during professional conferences. If the women agreed, the professors would then seek to get them drunk and have sex with them, the lawsuit says.

Kristina Rapuano is one of the seven plaintiffs. She claims that, in 2014, Whalen forcibly put his hands inside her clothing when she visited his office.

About a year later, Rapuano went to a conference with Kelley. She says Kelley “got her drunk” and raped her. The lawsuit does not say whether Rapuano went to police.

Rapuano also says Kelley continued to pressure her sex. When she refused, Rapuano said Kelley became angry and stopped giving her with academic guidance. He also tried to interfere with her research, Rapuano says.

Rapuano finished her doctoral degree at Dartmouth this spring. She told the Associated Press, “For me, it became a situation where I felt trapped and I couldn’t get away from it because getting away from it meant leaving the career that I had worked so hard to get.”

Vassiki Chauhan is another plaintiff. She is still a student at Dartmouth. She claims that Whalen raped her at his home. Chauhan said she sought medical attention after the rape. The lawsuit does not say whether she went to the police.

Chauhan says that everyone within the department knew about the three professors’ behavior. But no one spoke up or took action, she says.

Dartmouth College is a private university in the small town of Hanover, New Hampshire. It is one of the eight so-called Ivy League schools, and the ninth-oldest university in the United States. It was an all-men's school until 1972.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

harass - n. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way

party - v. a social event in which entertainment, food, and drinks are provided

lawsuit - n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

plaintiff - n. a person who sues another person or accuses another person of a crime in a court of law

assault - v. the crime of trying or threatening to hurt someone physically

tenured - adj. involving the right to keep a job (especially the job of being a professor at a college or university) for as long as you want to have it

tolerate - v. to accept the feelings, behavior, or beliefs of (someone)

(sexual) predation - n. the act of preying on someone to abuse them

alternative - n. offering or expressing a choice

groom - v. to prepare someone for a particular activity or purpose

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