At the end of last week, a report by Patheos detailed accusations from two more women accusing Neil DeGrasse Tyson of sexual misconduct. These new reports follow the little-circulated allegations made in 2014 by a former classmate of Tyson’s, Tchiya Amet, who accused the astrophysicist of drugging and raping her in 1984.
One incident in the new report, alleged by professor of astronomy Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, occurred in 2009 when she says Tyson “grabbed” and “felt up” her arm to look at her planetary tattoo. She told the Patheos reporter that he was looking for Pluto in the design and then “followed the tattoo into my dress.” Allers admits that the incident does not constitute assault, but described Tyson as “not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy.”
The second new allegation came from Tyson’s former assistant, Ashley Watson, who worked for the astrophysicist for several months this year. She said he displayed “predatory tendencies” during that time and also made periodic “misogynistic comments.” She reflected that in hindsight, those tendencies should have registered as “red flags” for Tyson’s later sexual advance near the end of their time working together.
Watson claims she felt pressure to impress her “superstar boss” so agreed to come to his apartment one evening after 10:30pm to “share a bottle of wine” and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She described to the news outlet how Tyson subjected Watson to “night filled with subtle intimidation and sexual advances” including playing suggestive music, making sexually-charged comments toward her and engaging her in an “intimate” Native American handshake. At the end of the night, Tyson reportedly told Watson he wanted to hug her but wouldn’t because he would “just want more.”
In October 2017, we saw many powerful men taken down by their own sexual misdeeds finally being brought to light by brave survivors. At least one allegation against a famous man missed the mainstream media — that of Tchiya Amet against Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
In a 2014 blog post, Amet said that after 30 years of staying silent, she wanted to detail her violent experience with Tyson to prevent him inflicting similar pain on others. She alleges in the post that while she was in the astronomy graduate program at the University of Texas, she was drugged and assaulted by Tyson in his apartment. She cites the act as the reason she did not pursue a career in astronomy and says she has lived with PTSD from the event since it occurred.
Amet’s story has surfaced several times — once in 2016 and again in Me Too Era 2017 — never quite hitting the mainstream until this time along with the other two allegations made by Allers and Watson.
Tyson refused to comment initially on the new story but responded in a Facebook post Saturday to all three allegations. Entitled, “On Being Accused,” Tyson first reminds the public of the importance of evidence, then proceeds to break down each accusation, providing his own explanation for the events in each case. Containing subsections and an “overview,” the response reads exactly like a scientific paper.
Tyson explains that in Allers’ case, he let his own curiosity about other people’s inclusion or exclusion of Pluto in their planetary map tattoos get the better of him. He writes that he did not intend to make her uncomfortable and apologized for the encounter.
“I only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behavior creepy,” he writes. “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.”
On the incident with Watson, Tyson says that he invited her over for wine and cheese “as a capstone of our friendship” and that their conversation during the evening was “in the same vein as all other conversations we ever had.” He also writes that when Watson came to him later and told him she had been uncomfortable during the evening, he “apologized profusely. She accepted the apology.”
In addressing the rape allegations, Tyson says that they are from a woman with whom he had a “brief relationship” during grad school who afterwards “changed her name and lived an entire life, married with children, before this accusation.” He notes that her blog post says she does not remember the encounter or waking up the next morning and he writes “it is as though a false memory had been implanted… because it never actually happened.”
He concludes his statement by acknowledging that the accused are often not believed and welcoming an independent investigation by FOX and National Geographic — the networks on which he currently has shows — into the allegations and his behaviour.