'Unwelcome, inappropriate' news on sexual assault case

The Daily Targum published an article yesterday titled “Northwestern professor sues student for damages,” and I want to thank the Targum for keeping Rutgers students informed about this important issue. Rutgers University actually plays a role in this case because Peter Ludlow had been offered a prominent position in our Philosophy Department before this case came to light, and Rutgers rightfully withdrew the offer. This reaction is part of what sparked his recent lawsuit. 

In case you have not yet heard about Ludlow and Northwestern University, here is some background information. Peter Ludlow, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, was accused of sexual assault by one of his students in February 2012. The investigation concluded in April 2012 with the University finding him responsible of “unwelcome and inappropriate” sexual advances but not of sexual assault. The student who filed the case said that she woke up in his bed after the night he bought her alcohol and refused to take her back to campus. The student sued the school for mishandling her case with “deliberate indifference and retaliation” in February 2014, a case that seems to still be open. Ludlow’s latest claim is that the student made advances toward him, which he refused. This is the fifth lawsuit filed in the case since the student came forward in February 2014. So, let us take a deep breath before we grasp the truth: This professor, who made “unwelcome and inappropriate” sexual advances toward his student, is a) still working at Northwestern and b) now suing that student for defamation, gender discrimination and invasion of privacy — as if sexual assault and “unwelcome and inappropriate” sexual advances are not the biggest forms of privacy invasion. Defamation means suing someone for hurting your reputation.

This is where Rutgers comes into play. Ludlow is claiming that the student who accused him ruined his chance of securing a highly paid, prestigious position at Rutgers University. I think it is safe to say that it was not her coming forward and demanding justice from him for making unwelcome sexual advances, buying her alcohol and taking her back to his house when she clearly said, “no,” it was his lack of good judgment, lack of respect and, dare I say, dangerous perception of power and control that cost him the position at our University. With this lawsuit, he is claiming that his reputation and success are more important, more legitimate than her sense of safety, dignity, self and wellbeing. Defamation is a “tort,” which is a civil wrong, but not a criminal wrong.

As a member of Women Organizing Against Harassment, I must say that Ludlow’s sense of civil wrongs is misguided. Unless he truly believes that making “unwelcome and inappropriate” sexual advances is not doing anything wrong and cannot see how he was wrong and mistaken in his advances (and still wrong for suing her for invasion of privacy and gender discrimination), then we have got our work cut out for us. Society must stop pitting men and women against each other by focusing on our differences and constructing us to see the other as objects and bullies. Patriarchy poisons everybody, not just women. It is our responsibility as humans, and especially as the rising generation, to change this victim-blaming culture in which we currently live. We have to stop asking questions like, “What was she wearing?” and start asking questions like, “Why did you keep going if she said stop?” Through education, upstander intervention, enthusiastic consent and awareness of respectful language, we can create a culture of mutual understanding, respectful sexual interactions and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. We are done sweeping cases of sexual assault under the rug. Change continues through us. 

Sarah Stern is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in social work.

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