Famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has denied the sexual misconduct claims that have recently been levied against him.
In all, three women have accused Tyson of inappropriate behavior and, in one case, sexual assault, prompting Tyson to publish the nearly 1,600-word rebuttal denying and, in some cases, apologizing for, the alleged incidents — all without addressing any of his accusers by name.
Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, detailed the most recent accusation against Tyson, which stems from a 2009 encounter at an industry party.
She said that Tyson “felt [her] up” at a party hosted by the American Astronomical Society that year, according to the report by Patheos, an outlet that describes itself as “the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality.”
Allers also claimed that after she asked Tyson for a photo, he took an interest in her solar system tattoo, which runs along her arm and up her back and shoulder. She said Tyson “looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress.”
While she did not categorize the encounter as assault, she said that it showed that Tyson was capable of “creepy behavior,” Patheos reports.
“My experience with him is he’s not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy,” Allers said.
Tyson described the encounter differently in his Facebook post.
While he didn’t “explicitly remember searching for Pluto at the top of her shoulder, he wrote, it is surely something I would have done in that situation.”
“I was reported to have ‘groped’ her by searching ‘up her dress,’ when this was simply a search under the covered part of her shoulder of the sleeveless dress,” he wrote. “I only just learned [nine years after] that she thought this behavior creepy. That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way. Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot.”
Ashley Watson, Tyson’s former assistant, also spoke with Patheos about the issue. She told the outlet that Tyson’s alleged inappropriate behavior led her to quit her job after working alongside the famed astrophysicist for months. Tyson had “predatory tendencies,” occasionally made “misogynistic comments” and once tried to seduce her, she claimed.
On one occasion, Tyson is said to have invited Watson to his apartment to “unwind” by having wine and cheese together. Shortly after she arrived, Watson said he took off his shoes and shirt, put on some music and began waxing poetic on the human need for “releases.”
When a little later she started getting ready to leave, Tyson was allegedly eager to show her what he described as a “Native American handshake,” which involved holding her hand tightly and searching for her pulse, she said.
After it was over, he placed his hands on her shoulders and said that he if he hugged her, he’d “just want more,” Watson said.
She quit shortly after the incident and reported her experiences to a supervisor as well as a sexual harassment hotline, Patheos reports.
In his Facebook post, Tyson described his relationship with his former assistant as a “fun, talkative friendship.” He “expressly rejected” the hugs he said she “frequently offered.”
“But in its place I offered a handshake, and on a few occasions, clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more,’” Tyson wrote. “My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection.”
Watson “freely chose” to spend time with him and partake in wine and cheese that evening, Tyson wrote, “but she was on her way home two hours later.” He described the handshake he shared with her as a gesture he’d learned from “a Native elder.”
Watson later told him that she was “creeped out” by the encounter, and interpreted Tyson’s actions as a seduction attempt, Tyson wrote.
“I apologized profusely. She accepted the apology,” he said. “And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend.”
“I note that her final gesture to me was the offer of a hug, which I accepted as a parting friend,” he said.
Tyson also stands accused of drugging and raping a fellow graduate student when they were both studying astronomy at the University of Texas in Austin more than 30 years ago.
Tchiya Amet, now a musician, shared her story with Patheos last month, telling the outlet that Tyson spiked her drink and assaulted her during a visit to his apartment in 1984. Tyson offered her water, but after she drank it, she blacked out, only to wake up naked in his bed, at which point he “mounted” her and she passed out again, she said.
The alleged assault eventually led her to drop out of school and seek therapy to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder, Amet, who formerly went by the name of Staci Hambric, said.
Amet initially detailed the allegations in a blog post, and has continued to write about them over the years. She filed a police report in 2014, but the case went nowhere because the alleged incident exceeded the statute of limitations in Texas, according to the New York Times.
Tyson addressed Amet’s claims last in his post, in a section titled “Early 1980s.” He and Amet had a “brief relationship” and were “intimate” on a handful of occasions — “all at her apartment” — but they ultimately ended their relationship because “the chemistry wasn’t there,” he said.
When he first came across one of her blog posts accusing him of sexual assault, he “did not recognize [her] by either photo or name.”
Amet’s allegations “[come] from an assumption of what happened to her during a night that she cannot remember,” Tyson wrote.
“It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember,” his post reads.
Amet told the Times that she was “in shock” and claimed that she and Tyson never dated.
As the accusations against Tyson continue to spark debate, the “Cosmos” host addressed his previous silence on the topic.
He initially declined to comment on the stories “on the grounds that serious accusations should not be adjudicated in the press,” he wrote. “But clearly I cannot continue to stay silent.”
Fox Broadcasting and National Geographic, the networks that air the Tyson-hosted science series “Cosmos,” have launched an investigation into the claims, according to the Times.
“[We have] only just become aware of the recent allegations regarding Neil deGrasse Tyson,” both companies said in a joint statement released on Friday. “We take these matters very seriously and we are reviewing the recent reports.”
The American Museum of Natural History in New York, where Tyson serves as the head of the Hayden Planetarium is also investigating the matter.
Tyson wrote on Facebook that he welcomes the networks’ investigation.
“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly,” he wrote. “I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant – a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from those who continue to respect and value me and my work.”
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
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