Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Obscene Phone Calls and Emails

Today’s guest blogger is Maura McLaughlin. Maura has been a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at West Virginia University since 2006. She received her PhD from Cornell University in 2001 and did postdoctoral research at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory for five years before coming to WVU. She is a Cottrell Scholar, a Sloan Fellow, and serves as Co-Director of a recently awarded NSF Physics Frontiers Center.
I’ve been dealing with sexual harassment via phone calls and email by an astronomer, and I believe this originated with a colloquium that I gave in the spring. The harassment continued for months, culminating in me reporting it to his university, but no evidence was found and the case was dismissed. I remain incredibly frustrated, and also scared, and hope that by writing this post I might identify others who are victims of harassment by this same person. I have provided a lot of detail in this post, as I think it will be helpful, but have not included the name of the university or astronomer who I believe is responsible, as I know these allegations carry serious repercussions.

The months-long incident started when I gave a colloquium this past spring. After the colloquium, one of the several people who approached me with questions (I’ll call him "X") asked if we could meet later on to discuss my research. I agreed and suggested that he sign up for a slot in my official meeting schedule, as there were several still available for that afternoon. X said that he'd rather meet up informally, and requested my cell phone number. I told him that it wasn’t necessary, as I'd be in the visitor office from 4-6 pm and he could stop by anytime. X said something like "Yes but it would just make me feel better if I could check and make sure you were there" and for some reason (I suppose because he’s an astronomer at a prestigious university and it’s a work-related interest) I agreed and gave him my cell number.

He texted me at 4:30 or so to make sure I was actually in the visitor’s office, I of course texted back in the affirmative, and he showed up for a meeting at 5 or so. We talked for an hour. He demonstrated some odd behavior (he was barefoot, sat a bit close, and took over my laptop for brief stretches) but no alarm bells went off for me and it was generally a pleasant interaction. He asked if he could join our collaboration and attend our meetings, and I encouraged him to email me with his interests and we would discuss further over email.

That evening I had a lovely dinner with other faculty (not including X), got back to my room around 9 pm, set my alarm for 3 am (as I had a ridiculously early flight home), and crashed. Between midnight and 1 am my phone rang and I clumsily answered to a strange and menacing computer-generated voice (or perhaps a real voice put through a voice synthesizer) shouting the same sexually explicit directive (involving male genitalia) at me over and over and over. I immediately hung up, of course, and received two more calls after that initial one, both repeating the same thing. The calls came from Google voice so were anonymous.

I didn’t sleep much as it was disconcerting to get those calls, especially in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar city. The next day on the flight back home, I thought about who could have made the calls. I had never one received a call like this on my cell phone; in fact I’d never received any spam call about anything in nine years of having my current number. And the call came just hours after someone who didn't really need my phone number requested my phone number. I hadn’t given my number to anyone else at University Y aside from the colloquium organizer. Therefore, I was really pretty certain it was X.

I felt incredibly violated, sick to my stomach really, that this could have happened due to participation in any academic enterprise. The next week, I thought about calling X's supervisor or calling someone at his University (let’s call it "Y"). However, I didn't know his supervisor well and it would undoubtedly be an awkward conversation. Plus, I had no absolute proof that the call was from X. What if I wrongly accused someone, when it just happened to be a wrong number or strange coincidence? I also had a huge number of work-related things to get done that week and frankly didn’t have the time to deal with the hassle of reporting it. In the end, I decided that the best thing to do would be to just forget about it and hope that it didn't happen again.

Unfortunately, however, it did happen again. The calls continued, intermittently, at exactly the same time and from the Google voice number. The one other time I picked up, there was another creepy voice (not the same as the first but equally menacing sounding) repeating a different, but similarly sexually explicit directive (this time involving female genitalia). Again the pattern continued with several repeated phone calls that evening (but I didn’t pick up the phone except for that first time). I also received calls from Google voice on my work phone at the same time as the home calls and the email.

The next morning, after this call, I checked my email and found one in my inbox titled "Richard Lovelace claims: New msec magnetar discovered in galactic halo!"

This title, though a bit strange, is right in my line of work, and the email promised "PDS and timing properties of xray emission". The email was from Bjork Raz (, an address I didn’t recognize. But because of the astronomical subject matter, I clicked on the link in the email anyway. It directed to a threatening pornographic video (involving male genitalia). The time on the email was exactly the same time as the phone calls the night before (within minutes). This made it clear that the person making the phone calls was an astronomer (I doubt that there is generic pornographic spam circulating with magnetars in the subject line), and strengthened my suspicion that it was X. (FWIW, I’ve never received any follow-up work-related email or call from X).

I posted something about the email in a pulsar-related facebook group the following week, asking if anyone else received this same spam. (I hoped that maybe this is something widespread and not crafted especially for me). No one replied that they had, but a friend responded suggesting that I go to the police about the situation. The thought of going to the police had honestly never occurred to me, but she was adamant and also shared a similar experience. I deleted the facebook post shortly after, as I became worried that X would see it (or someone would tell him about it) and have a chance to remove evidence of the harassment. Emboldened, I decided to contact someone at University Y about the situation.

I first emailed X’s immediate supervisor to set up a phone call - unfortunately he was away but we set up a phone conversation for the following week. I wanted to give him a heads-up, but I knew I'd lose my nerve if I didn't contact someone else at University Y right away. Therefore, on the same day I also contacted University Y's Title IX office, which directed me to another office dealing with sexual harassment. I spoke with a woman in that office who was very helpful and understanding; it was cathartic to tell the story to someone, in person, and have it taken seriously, She promised that University Y would do a full investigation into the allegations.

I emailed her the information about the times of phone calls and I forwarded the sexually explicit email I received. She said they would attempt to trace the email. I did also eventually talk to X’s supervisor when he returned to campus and explained the situation. He was very receptive and helpful and promised to support an investigation.

Three weeks after I provided the information, University Y approached X and asked him whether he was guilty of the calls and emails; he denied any contact with me. They seized his laptop and searched it. They sent me an email that stated that they "found no evidence to support any communications to your cell phone nor did they find any evidence of the Google voice mail number you identified. At this time we are concluding our investigation." (The Google voice mail statement makes no sense to me as any call from Google will originate from that number). There were no details given about the search and there was no mention of the email sent by X to me and whether they were able to trace it or to identify other Gmail accounts on his laptop. The email I received about the conclusion of the investigation was from the investigator who interviewed X and cc’ed three others (the person I’d initially discussed the situation with, X’s supervisor, and another member of X’s department). The investigator did also call and leave me a voice mail message about the conclusion of the investigation. I emailed back expressing disappointment and the hope that they would have traced the emails or phone, but I never received any additional communication from the investigator or the other three people cc’ed on the email, including anyone in X’s department.

I am left with many mixed emotions. I feel embarrassed that I went to the trouble of reporting this (it was incredibly difficult for me to make that initial call). I am also frustrated that the investigation was concluded so quickly. I’ve not gone to the police, mostly because I just don’t know if I can go through this process again with no resolution. The calls have not stopped; the most recent one, just this past weekend, differed from previous ones in that the harasser left me an explicit voice mail message, similar to the others, even though I did not pick up. Clearly, if the harasser is X, the investigation itself (in which X was given my name) was not enough to stop the harassment. It would be easiest to simply let the incident go, but I am terrified to visit University Y again. Even if the harasser is not X, I know it is an astronomer and it seems likely that it is an astronomer at University Y since the first call was received on the evening of my visit there. I am also nervous about attending astronomy meetings anywhere if there's a possibility that X might be there. I’m even hesitant to go to a meeting in the same city or area as X lives. At the same time, there remains a possibility that the perpetrator is not X, nor anyone at University Y, but another astronomer from a different institution, which makes me even more nervous as I’ve therefore no clue who it could be.

Please contact me and let me know if you have received calls or emails similar to what I described. I would be very surprised if I was the only victim of this harasser and hope that if enough people have experienced this we can determine who is responsible so that this does not continue to happen.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. This is a weird situation.

A couple of things to take into account: a lot of viruses/trojans/spams
can easily figure out your interests. Note how often all these smart apps
know everything you googled for, checked-up, etc.

Have you considered that you might yourself have registered somewhere
your phone number some time ago, and your phone number got forwarded
to some site for ads an spam? I'm thinking about when I joked with
my boyfriend and signed him up for a competition (for a vacation) at a serious site,
and he ended up having to change phone number due to all spams
for e.g. underwear he was getting.

I'd be suspecting viruses and spams...can also be one of your
students who made this joke on you.

If the investigation said no evidence was found for X contacting you,
I'd give up that line of thought...can be somebody else.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Call a LAWYER. You have a whopper of a case. Severe and pervasive sexual harassment, a sloppy and incomplete investigation, and retaliation? My God. Seriously. If I was a plaintiff's attorney, I would be chomping at the bit here. For real, call a lawyer. Protect yourself here. There is no reason not to.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for coming forward with this. It is stunning to me how much reform the astronomy community needs currently.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That story is powerful. I feel for you. That is so creepy and strikes me as far beyond the usual complaints echoed on this forum.

I know it's a big nuisance, but I suggest you get a new cell phone number and share it only with people you trust, at least for as long as this creepy story resonates in your mind. It also gives me perspective on why some people (not me) are extra careful with their phone numbers. I guess like with email addresses, you could have a cell number you keep very close and private for trusted parties and a second one for all other transactions. Expensive though.

This makes me think, "What could you have done to honey-trap the person instead of showing your hand, and thereby warning the perpetrator to remain anonymous?" I don't have a suggestion, but it is worth some thought for others that might experience something similar. (For you it may be too late if the calls came from X at Y, because X knows you suspect him.)

If I was a friend of yours, I would offer to take extra-legal steps to discourage his continued creepy behavior:

If I were X and someone I did not know threatened me anonymously but in a way that was clear was not you (like walking up to him on campus and having a short conversation and walking away), I would stop if I was responsible, and if I wasn't, I would contact you (and maybe the police) to report the threat.

Maybe that extralegal ation is not such a good idea. But you get my intent of wanting to help you and to shut down this person's behavior.

Maybe you should seek some professionals, like maybe a counselor, to help with the emotions and healing. Alas, this is probably more common than we'd imagine and professionals may know what is effective for you to put this behind you. For me, I think it would help to keep telling myself "X is not responsible. It is an internet troll that does not even know me" until I started to believe that. [ I apologize if your story makes it clear that there is no way this could be some random person that doesn't know you. ]

Good luck to you. How awful.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I work in IT and can confirm the first comment here is correct. That's not to say it doesn't circumstantially look like X is to blame (the timing alone does that) but the astronomy connection doesn't provide anything more for you I'm afraid.

To determine whether it's spam or a targeted personal attack you'd need to see if and to where the phone and email spam is trying to direct you. If it links to some website or other scheme that's going to make somebody money then it's likely just spam. However, you want to be careful doing this as it could equally link to somewhere that will try to put a virus/malware on the machine your using. In IT we'd create a 'sacrificial machine' to test this and can then trash, but I guess you don't have that option. If you know any IT geeks best consult one.

If the emails or voice message contain no links or advertising at all, then that would strengthen the idea that this is something targeted at you by an individual rather than it being a spammer/phisher/malware.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I would call the police, not the university. This person, whoever they are, has met the definition of harassment and left you afraid for your safety and your career. If it is X, you want to protect yourself from them. If not, you will want to know who is responsible and what their motives are. The university will only have so many tools to investigate and is probably not legally allowed to pursue certain types of followup investigations or sanctions without hard evidence. The police should be able to trace the calls. You can then pursue options from requesting a cease and desist, getting a restraining order, or pressing charges. It will also allow you to document the situation so if the behavior escalates it will make it easier to pursue action. I do think you have grounds to ask the police to investigate and that it would be wise to do so.

I agree with the previous commenter that if the person harassing you is at the university you might have a legal case against them, but I'm not a legal expert. It's also unclear based on your writing above whether you will want to pursue this option or rather open discussions about how your university handles such investigations in the future.

Anonymous said...

Have you asked Google if they can do anything? They're not likely to be happy that someone is using their service for such purposes, and they certainly have the technical expertise to figure out what's going on.

Also, while it shouldn't be necessary, it might help to inject some testosterone into the situation. A number of years ago my wife had a problem with an ex. He was quite persistent, until the day I called. I didn't threaten. I was polite. I simply reminded him that she had married me and asked him to leave her alone. Sad as it is, he respects my desire that he leave my wife alone more than he respects her desire to be left alone.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry this is happening to you, Prof. McLaughlin. Making this post is a very courageous, and *productive* thing to do. This sounds like the kind of behavior that could have been repeated many times in the past (or would be in the future) --- and bringing together victims of it could well be the best way to resolve it.

It seems like, especially if other victims come forward, it would be worth going to the police --- maybe they (together with google?) can trace the google-voice or google-email account. I would kind of assume a "university investigation" is constrained to university computers and accounts --- and thus couldn't look at personal computers/accounts.

Anonymous said...

Find a private investigator specializing in Internet forensics, then get law enforcement involved--they may also do some online detective work for you. This harassment is crossing state lines--the FBI would have jurisdiction. Be sure you always have GPS locator turned off on your phone and any devices you receive email on--turn it on only when absolutely necessary.. You'll need a lawyer eventually because this has caused you emotional distress and WILL affect your career because going to meetings, conferences and colloquia are vital to research and collaboration. (I am a female academic in another field.) I also agree with the commenter suggesting you get another phone number, but I would take it a step further--get another phone and give that number out sparingly to friends, family and essential colleagues. Keep the current phone simply to document the continued harassment. Turn it off and check messages ebery few days and archive them.

I'm disappointed in University Y's investigation. Of course his laptop had no evidence. How many of us have multiple laptops, tablets and even a desktop or two cluttering up our homes? If he's smart enough to use Google voice he's smart enough to use another device and possibly cloaking software or apps--but a good PI, law enforcement detective or even a computer science student who has played with hacking can find this guy. Corporate cyber security people are often former hackers--maybe one will help you out for a littke extra money. To use a bad astronomy joke, this is not rocket science. This guy can be found. And the least University Y could have done was admonish him for his unprofessional dress and behavior in your office.

You should also bring this up with your own university admin, Title IX office and university police. The IT department and/or someone in the computer science department might help too.

I know you don't want to re-live this constantly but it could escalate. A good counselor will help you through this process. Good luck and keep us posted.

Anonymous said...

Dear Maura,
That is awful, I am very saddened that this has happened to you, and I hope that you can get justice, resolution, and peace. Trying to find other women whom this jerk has harassed was clever. I hope that it works. And, I hope that he stops.

Anonymous said...

If the harassment has continued, then a trip to the police station, and to the lawyers at your institution, is definitely in order. It's not going to stop until whoever is doing it is tracked down and held responsible, so even though it's possible another investigation will lead nowhere that's better than the default option that you're subjected to this for a long time. The job of the police and your institution is to defend and protect you against something like this, so use them to get it to stop.

I also highly suggest that you talk with a counselor; your university may have a counseling center that can help. Violations like this are terrifying, and letting it overwhelm you, or make you scared to be a scientist, lets the bastard win.

Whoever is doing this is being very careful about it, so it may take some effort and patience to track them down (and that's especially true if it's not X, though I think it's likely him). But, it's worth it...there is no excuse for something like this, in or out of astronomy, and it pisses me off whenever I hear about anyone being sexually harassed.

Anonymous said...

This is probably a long shot, but have you tried contacting Google? If a Google Voice account is being used to break the law I'd think they would want to know and help (if you can get their attention). Depending on how the person behind it has linked their Gmail accounts, it may be possible to track his identity that way too. I'd think that might require the police's involvement.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. The person doing this is despicable. The combination of harassment with the sole intent of terrorizing you and the premeditation required to keep the origin untraceable is particularly vicious. I'm so sorry.

Also, massive side-eye to the comment above that suggested you should take the word of University Y. Because universities investigating misconduct by their own faculty are always fair and dedicated to the truth even if it could hurt their reputation. Right.

Joan Schmelz said...

To one of our many Anonymous commenters: If you name names, we cannot post your comment! This leaves us open to lawsuits and liabilities. Did you know that there is more than one astronomer with that name? Imagine the damage you would do to the innocent party's reputation with that one comment. If you resubmit without the name, I can post your comment.

Anonymous said...

This is so horrible. I am sorry you are going through this. Please go to the police. Perhaps it is just harassment now, but there is the possibility of escalation. I am incredulous that it is a spam bot, given the timing of events and also the fact that both your cellular and work numbers have been targeted in a coordinated way without any commercial purpose. I strongly disagree with suggestions that you simply get a new phone and move on. If I were in your situation and had the money I would contact a private investigator. Best of luck identifying other victims.

Anonymous said...

An awful experience for you to have to endure - I hope it gets resolved quickly. It's easy for me to say but I would do a combination of the things mentioned above - contact Google in the first instance as it's their service being abused and they may have more information that they could provide to the police. Definitely get the police involved. For peace of mind and if you can afford it a private investigator may also help.

Contact a specialist lawyer so you know your rights and what to expect from Google and the police. Make sure you bring this scumbag to justice - as you say you are almost certainly not the first and won't be the last victim of them otherwise. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Re: Viruses, trojans, etc. mentioned in a different comment, it should be fairly straightforward to have your computer checked.

Nighthawk Black said...

From the details given, it seems likely to me that individual 'X' is indeed the perpetrator, and it is extremely unlikely that this is the first time he has engaged in such sick activities. He's a coward so the others probably include students or other vulnerable people in less visible positions. Hopefully others will come forward and help bring resolution to all of it.

Don't give up.

MatthewRFrancis said...

I feel too many of these comments are attempts at gaslighting or downplaying the problem. Really? This is not a "student prank", nor is it a virus. Reread the post, people: these calls came to Dr. McLaughlin's cell phone and her office phone, as well as emails to her professional account.

It's very convenient for you anonymous commenters to say she's just overreacting and that the problem is really that she picked up a virus, but the evidence she provided is against you.

"Shecky Riemann" said...

So odd and convoluted... but assuming this is not some sort of virus, malware, robot etc. but a real human focused on you, just two thoughts:

1) Is there any chance that you and person X share some 'enemy' or 'malcontent' in your professional community who would do this to simultaneously disturb you and frame person X (create havoc in both your lives at the same time)?

2) If #1 is not the case, than hopefully your posting will be seen by others who will recognize the specific conduct and come forward, because you are likely not the first or only victim of this perp's behavior.

Good luck...

Eugenia said...

Dear Maura,

I'm so sorry to hear you're being attacked and harassed. I can't begin to imagine how frustrating and painful this has been for you day-to-day. I believe in you and support you, and please remember that the harassment targeted at you is *not* your fault.


Sheepdog said...

I'm sorry this is happening to you. You are correct to take this seriously. Please make sure you meticulously document everything. Yes, you can contact law enforcement. Sometimes the result you get there depends on the personality of the officer who takes your initial call. You might choose to contact the victim service department of your local law enforcement agency first to get support and advocacy.

If you want to use private services please don't bother with private detectives; You need someone who can do threat assessment and threat management (that's very different from what investigators do). Your number 1 priority has to be your safety. The second priority is to make this stop. You can worry about everything else later.

Getting into some sort of legal battle with a university will just eat up your energy and you need your energy to keep yourself safe, sane, and to continue to live your life in spite of this loser.

I'm in Canada so I can't directly help you but my colleagues in the USA may know someone reputable in your area who can help (but I can't promise as I cannot speak for them & I won't do anything unless you ask me to).

I understand why people, including some law enforcement, will tell you to get rid of that phone or change your number. Don't do it. I'd rather not tell you the reason for that in a public forum (because I'm concerned the stalker may see it) but I will explain here or elsewhere if you want. Listen to and trust your instincts. Take care of your safety and your physical and mental health. Make sure that whatever decisions you make are YOUR decisions and not what everyone else tells you to do.

Anonymous said...

There are two issues here:

1. There is unacceptable behavior directed at the post writer. I am sorry to hear that she is experiencing harrassment and hope that the behavior stops immediately.

2. There is another form of harrassment directed at someone who may very well be entirely innocent. There is simply no evidence that the suspect is responsible for this behavior. For all we know, some teenagers decided to dial a random cell phone number. Or some disgruntled undergrads decided to send obscene emails. Sure, the timing of the events raises suspicion, but it may all be a coincidence. How would you like to be accused of harrassment, have your immediate supervisor and other people in the department informed of the charges, and have your computer taken away for close examination? Guilty until proven innocent?

Sheepdog said...

Investigating someone is not harassing them.

Anonymous said...

In a country far away, a long time ago, when there was no IT to amplify and obscure this type of thing it was possible to identify a person who did stuff like this. Over several decades (before I got old and ugly) I encountered several such instances of "harassment." It ALWAYS turned out to be someone I had encountered in a public venue (such as a popular lecture) OR one of my undergraduate students (male, slightly older than a steady, on track, 4 year undergrad but well-dressed and polite). I agree with the statement by another "anonymous", "There is simply no evidence that the suspect is responsible for this behavior". Bare feet are really not a sign of mental instability. Guys who do this stuff are usually very conventional on the surface. DO contact Google. Do contact the FCC. Even contact your congress-person! and ask for help.

Anonymous said...

I am terribly sorry you are being harassed!

One resource you might consider is your university's security office. You, a member of their staff, are being threatened, that is something that I would think they would take very seriously. If they are willing to investigate, they likely have the ability to call on others such as the local police, University Y's campus security or Google and get cooperation that you wouldn't easily be able to obtain. Ideally they would subpoena Google for the IP address from which the bogus Gmail account for the email was created and from which the Google Voice messages are being sent, that ought to provide good evidence as to the perpetrator's location and perhaps identity.

It is a very sad world sometimes.

Michelle M. said...

Do let me know if I can help. Please see your email, Joan. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating that the first comment tells you to abandon the line of thought that it's X. listen to your instincts

Joerg said...

I'm very sorry this is happening to you. It is so horrifying how you and women in academia are treated.
Thank you for sharing, this must havetaken a lot of courage.

Jessica Kirkpatrick said...

Prof. McLaughlin -- I have some contacts within Google's legal department. They might be a good resource for you, re: tracing Google voice calls, if that is a route you decide to pursue. If you want me to put you in touch, let me know.

I'm really sad and upset to hear this is happening to you. I would feel similarly to you if this happened to me: frustrated at the limited investigation by the University, nervous about running into whomever is doing this when you travel or go to conferences. I applaud you for coming forward with your story, and I hope that if other Astronomers are experiencing similar harassment, that they feel comfortable contacting you (or the CSWA). I suspect you are not the only person this has happened to.

To Many Anonymous Commenters -- I'm sad and upset at the various ways that commenters on this post are propagating standard sexist practices: Gaslighting, mansplaining, victim blaming, condescending,'s Lewis' Law for every other comment on this piece.

Craig L said...

As officer in an astro club, I had the honor of meeting & having this astronomer talk at a meeting several years ago. There were a few girl scouts present that evening. Dr McLaughlin, you impressed a few young ladies as well as regular club members.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being brave enough to post this. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

There are predatory people in every professional field, and I applaud you for stepping forward and telling your story. It bears repeating- the individual(s) behind this have set an ugly and illegal tone. I agree with those who say that you should seek help form local police at both university towns, state, and perhaps F.B.I., and it is an interstate crime. Get a Lawyer- quickly. This has a strong chance of turning into something very ugly, and your physical well-being is most likely at stake. Anyone who has dealt with a creep at any level would advise the same. One last thing- If you have male colleagues that are sympathetic to your plight, ask them to escort you everywhere, especially at off-campus conferences, etc. until this person has been dealt with. Get a restraining order!

Robert Minchin said...

I'm very sorry you're going through this. Thank you for your bravery in posting about it. It really drove home that this can happen at any career stage, not just to early-career women - something I knew intellectually but had not internalised.

It has also driven home, alas, the extent to which many people will go to deny that this sort of thing happens. Unfortunately, the attitude of many of the posters here is probably a reflection of that of the investigators at University Y. I hope everyone posting "Maura is wrong because..." is aware that they are actively supporting the continued harassment of women (and other minority groups) by creating an environment in which harassers are safe to operate and victims are made to feel guilty. If you have posted something along those lines in the genuine belief that you are being helpful, then please think over the consequences of your actions.

Victor Venema said...

That the investigation of university Y did not find anything is not particularly informative. I know of a case where a professor had not put his master student, who did most of the work, on a publication. The university was mainly interested in protecting its reputation, less in justice. An independent investigation thus sounds like a good idea, especially if the situation hurts your career. The career of this guy should be hurt, at lot, not yours. This is completely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Very sad that this happened to you.
Hope this guy makes a mistake one day, and gives himself up with something you can give a judge, or that you find someone else to cross check the coincidence at least. There are so many weirdos in our field that bare feet and weird behavior are not really a proof :).

F Harbi said...

I am so sorry that you have to go through such a stressful, unfair and disgusting issue!
No matter how we may want to look at it, once you those calls get to you, any phone call or email or google phone call makes you jump, your stomach hurts, your head spins and you wonder if it's gonna be one of those calls again or just a regular one.
The problem is, the more calls you got the more likely you are to feel more and more jumpy , stressed and harassed. The way the "investigation" was handled is something to be truely ashamed of.

Do not feel bad nor guilty for feeling the fears and feelings those calls make you feel:*It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. The people responsable could be teens or someone who know exactly what those call generates: It's harassment.

My thoughts are with you, and, do let nobody tell you what this is or this is not. I also assume you need to talk to someone because that kind of stress just pile up. No steam out mechanism.
Seek as many legal councelling as you can, because: You are doing something legal and that caller is not.

If google reacts the same way Facebook does, it could take a while.
Count on reliable friends, don't get into the battle all alone, it's tiring and some questions are so intrusive you wonder if the decision is not taken already. It's part of the process , sadly.

You are right, that caller is not.
You are doing the right thing for you and for any potential victim of this person who takes pleasure in making someone's life a living hell, lead by fear.

Hang on, trust your instincts, be sure that nothing you could have done nor said could be a reason, an excuse for the caller's behavior.

Sexual harassment became a shapeshifter. I hope you don't feel too guilty because you are not!

I hope very strongly that you'll get the justice you deserve as well as being treated the way you should always ebtreated: Respectfully.

With all my heart ♥

Luci said...

Thank you for telling this story, it's something that needs to be heard. I don't have any advice. I did want to say that I'm sorry to see all the comments who are downplaying what you're saying and also reacting in a very 'What about the man?!' sort of way.

"Shecky Riemann" said...

I have lots of questions, but will limit to this:

If I'm right about where your colloquium was, it looks like there were at least 5 female colloquia presenters in astronomy/physics in the month-or-so after yours... have you contacted any/all of these individuals to see if others had similar experiences?

IF this is the behavior of a University professor (blatantly risking his entire career), it sounds compulsive and repetitive (part of a mental illness?), and odd, short of real negligence, that University Y couldn't make a connection back to him.
But all the instances you cite could indeed be coincidences of timing -- IF NO ONE(?) has contacted you with similar experiences by now, then I have to wonder about your own students, past and present, at WVU... this sounds SO MUCH like sick, prankish juvenile behavior of an immature student with a grudge.
But, IF YOU HAVE heard from other victims by now, pointing to University Y and/or person X then hopefully you'll have added info that can resolve this fairly soon.

Anonymous said...

Here is the catch about the harasser using Google Voice -- They would have had to have provided a REAL PHONE NUMBER in order to receive calls back to that number. You could potentially call back and it would ring their real phone. This makes the individual traceable.

Next, even if they figured out how to make outgoing calls and texts with that number without a phone, their IP address and associated Google accounts associated with IP could be tracked. There is a high likelihood that Google can track down this individual's true identity.

Please don't back down, there are no excuses for this individual's behavior.

Anonymous said...

good on you for fighting this and for talking about it.

the bully (who is no doubt reading this. hello sir, hope you get some psychiatric help soon) needs to know they cannot win with their current behavior.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry that you are going through this. I really hope that you can get it resolved, and in the meantime you can surround yourself with supportive people and distant yourself from anyone who wants to minimize this.

The university investigation sounds really frustrating. They might have done everything in their power, but you have no idea because they aren't communicating with you. In fact, because they aren't communicating with you, you don't even know what was in their power to do or what they considered to be within their power. Sounds like they have no plans to give you a chance to ask them some questions about what exactly they did. Seems to me, at most all they could do is say that X's work computer wasn't used to do this, but again you don't know how thoroughly they investigated it. If I were you, I would go to the police. Let the university know that you are going to the police and say you need to know what exactly they did so you can pass that information on to the police. Maybe they won't tell you, but will talk to the police. Police would also have the authority to check any other computers he owns. And if it's not X, the police are the ones with the authority to investigate further. I know it's really hard to face the idea of another investigation after the disappointment of the last one, but this is criminal activity and it sounds like the perpetrator has no intention of stopping.

Good luck! Stay strong!

Anonymous said...

Fact: unwelcome, unacceptable behavior. Assumptions: an astronomer must have done it, X must have done it, University Y did not investigate the matter thoroughly. Fallacy: those who do not immediately blame X are gaslighting or actively supporting the continued harassment of women.

Paul Ste. Marie said...

Obscene phone calls and stalking are criminal conduct. University administrations are neither law enforcement agencies nor courts, and they do a really bad job of trying to imitate either one.

You need to file a criminal complaint, immediately, and point out to the investigating officer that a subpoena to Google will in all likelihood turn up the identity of the culprit with minimal effort on their part.

I'm very sorry that this happened to you, but the sooner LE is involved, the more likely it is to be stopped and the culprit brought to justice.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear that this has happened to you.

However, I'd like you to think back to the colloqium at which you met X. When you gave out your number, did you give it to X in front of anyone? Were you in an empty room with X when you did it, or were you in front of anyone else? Is there a chance that it was someone at Y who is not X? Even the organiser, to whom you gave your number? In that case, after potentially hearing about the investigation into X, or its results, the person Z (the actual perpetrator) may have continued, knowing you're on the wrong track. I'm not saying that Z is not X, just that it may not be the case. I think you need to really think back to think if its possibly someone else before hounding after one guy.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a really frustrating situation -- I hope you are eventually able to deal with it and move on.

First, block that google number. Most smartphones now have the ability to blacklist phone numbers. If you don't have a phone that allows this, I believe telephone companies can block numbers as well (though I haven't tried this personally).

Check links in the future. Clicking directly on a link from someone you don't know is a bad idea -- always check to see what that link is and where it's redirecting you to. There are many sites that will tell you the final address of a website link (a simple google search reveals this site: If there is an unexpected redirect, don't follow the link and mark the email as spam instead.

Finally, I would report that google voice number to both google and the police. I don't know how google works specifically, but some tech companies will shut down or give warning to accounts associated with spam or harassment. Police are generally useless regarding these types of small cases where no one is harmed, but having a police report might give you more weight when you report the issue to Google. Maybe if you are in a city with less over-worked police, they will give your case more time, but don't count on it (I've had underwhelming experiences when I reported theft and break-ins).

Amanda said...

I'm so sorry.

A couple things came to mind while reading this.

I don't think university police forces or harassment committees or task forces are in any way equipped to handle these types of cases. Look at how they handle sex crimes when it is kept within the university... It makes sense that they are motivated to close cases quickly.

I agree with the others that it's a job for public law enforcement. They have the ability to issue a warrant to Google, etc. That said, it's totally understandable if you didn't want to pursue it further, and reporting the harassment would be a huge burden on you more than anyone else. I feel like maybe X didn't do the harassment -- from his work computer at least. Who knows, I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a dark net site where you can give someone's phone number and there are sickos who are happy to make harassing phone calls.

Sadly, I would change my number and be selective with whom I shared it. Yes, I would also not revisit University Y. Trust your gut.

Tina Bolderoff said...

I'm so sorry for what you are going through. I do wonder if it's not a sickness that creates these cases. It's appears like he is trying to assert power over you who me may find intimidating and he couldn't compete mentally, so now terrorizing on a pseudo sexual level. I would definitely involve the authorities, if possible. As well as Google and your phone carrier. You may have already done so, good fortune or hunting if need be!