Investigation: The Franki Aymond story (Part II)
This is the second half of a two part story.
Franki faces one more hurdle: Krygier appeals OSU’s decision
Ohio State University officially concluded that Franki had not raped Andrew Krygier. That would seem to leave two other possibilities: That Andrew raped Franki, as she claimed, or that nobody raped anyone. Under the circumstances, the latter possibility seems unlikely. (If any readers can think of alternative scenarios overlooked here, please discuss them in the Comments section below.)
But to parse between these different conclusions would require an ability to deal with sexual misconduct allegations that OSU clearly does not have. OSU is the university that notoriously protected Richard Strauss, a university doctor employed to examine and treat athletes, over the course of 20 years. (Former OSU wrestlers have, of course, accused Representative Jim Jordan of knowing about these abuses, despite Jordan's denials.) It was OSU's sexual assault support center that failed to report 57 potential felonies to police and had to be shut down, with the firing of four staff members.
Last year, I reported on yet another case where OSU failed to act to protect students despite overwhelming evidence of sexual harassment by a member of the university's anthropology department. Only when the victims of this abuse turned to me for help did OSU do the right thing and force the faculty member (a woman in this case) to resign.
To make matters worse for Franki and other women in physics, a recent survey of undergraduate women in physics found that nearly three-quarters reported having experienced at least one type of sexual harassment during their science studies. (This study, published last year in Physical Review Physics Education Research, was coauthored by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign anthropologist Kate Clancy, an expert in sexual misconduct in field situations such as those in anthropology and archaeology.) Although Franki was already a graduate student in 2013, she would later herself study the sexism that pervades all levels of physics.
Before Franki could mount accusations against Andrew Krygier, however, she had to deal with one more barrier. Krygier, who had participated in only a very limited way in the disciplinary proceedings against Franki--supposedly because he had been traveling at the time they took place--suddenly appealed her exoneration, on October 10, 2013. In a long email to OSU's vice-president for student life, Javaune Adams-Gaston, Krygier protested the "shocking decision" in the case, and argued that his absence from the university created a "procedural error" (although he did admit that he should have been able to participate remotely.) In the email, Krygier speculated about why Franki had been exonerated. One reason, he wrote, was "I am a male. If I were a female, I have little doubt that the outcome would be different."
But the records in the case show that Krygier was in constant contact with the university about how he could either Skype or telephone in to participate in the proceedings even though he was in France. Moreover, he made clear to Justin Moses that he didn't want to have much to do with the proceedings. On September 12, he emailed to say:
"My preference is to have as little to do with this as possible. Surely this is an understandable and common reaction.
"The email I sent [to Richard Freeman] was carefully descriptive and written as near in time to the event as possible to document the event in the most precise and accurate way. If further information is needed I am willing, but not particularly excited about, testifying, as you put it."
On October 16, Moses emailed Franki to tell her that the university was considering whether Krygier had filed his appeal in the time allotted. Otherwise, he told her, it would be moot. But the university decided that Krygier had filed his appeal on time. On October 23, Franki filed a two-page response to the appeal, urging that it be denied.
On November 15, 2013, Javaune Adams-Gaston, Vice President for Student Life, wrote to Krygier to tell him that his appeal had been denied:
"After reviewing all information and giving your request careful consideration, I have concluded that you were afforded sufficient opportunity to participate in the process and that there were no procedural errors that impacted the outcome of the case. I have, therefore, decided to support the decision that resulted from this process."
It is clear from the record that OSU officials did not believe Franki Aymond had raped Andrew Krygier. The tone in Adams-Gaston's denial of Krygier's appeal makes that clear. But there was a big gap between not believing Krygier and believing Franki--or at least acting on that belief.
On October 4, 2013, a week after she was exonerated by the University Conduct Board, Franki made a formal complaint against Krygier to OSU's Office of Human Resources. She listed six allegations:
1. That Krygier sexually assaulted her on August 5, 2013.
2. That Krygier made a false complaint against her to "cover up" his own actions.
3. That university protocols governing sexual assault complaints were ignored.
4. That university privacy protocols governing the reporting of sexual assault were not followed.
5. That the university failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that she was provided with a secure and non-hostile work environment, following the sexual assault.
6. That she had been retaliated against for filing a formal complaint against Mr. Krygier.
The documents related to the university's investigation of Franki's complaints run to more than 400 pages. They include notes of interviews with Franki and other witnesses, answers to written questions from Franki and other witnesses, emails, and other correspondence. Both Franki and Krygier had attorneys to represent them. The witnesses included Andrew Krygier, Richard Freeman, Jon Pelz (graduate advisor in the OSU physics department), and John Morrison (the colleague who helped Franki get home after the August events.)
By Christmas of 2013, the investigation was still ongoing. Franki, who had asked for accommodations in the physics department that would keep her and Krygier from being present in the same place at the same time--wrote to the university to complain that these accommodations were not being respected.
On the previous October 24, the physics department chair, Jim Beatty, had outlined to both Franki and Krygier what the rules would be, designating certain days that Franki could be in the building. Franki, Krygier, and Beatty had signed the document (Beatty declined to discuss the matter on the record.)
In Franki's letter to OSU, dated December 26, stated that she had still been "denied access to a safe and non-hostile work environment.... my request to be able to enter the building without my rapist--a dangerous and violent individual--has not been respected." Franki accused department faculty of having retaliated against her, adding that "the department has not been supportive during my hospitalization and later intensive therapy for PTSD treatment, a condition I developed following the events of August 5th and which was greatly exasperated by the actions of both the Physics department and the University."
Finally, on January 10, 2014, the Office of Human Resources delivered its findings in a 15 page document. In essence, OSU threw up its hands and more or less declared the entire matter a "he said, she said" episode.
Allegations 1 and 2: "In sum, the incomplete accounts of the incident, and the lack of meaningful evidence to corroborate either side's allegations, leave the University unable to confirm the truth or falsity of either account based on anything approximating a preponderance of the evidence."
Allegation 3: The investigators found little or no fault with the procedures that were followed, and that neither the university nor Richard Freeman had any obligation to notify the UK police. They did, however, find that Freeman had exercised "poor judgement" in telling Franki to meet with Jim Krygier, but also stated that this poor judgement was mitigated by the fact that the meeting never took place. The investigators nevertheless concluded that the physics department "would benefit" from training in how to handle sexual assault complaints.
Allegation 4: The investigators concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" that Franki's privacy was violated when she was accused of rape by Krygier.
Allegation 5: The investigators concluded that the physics department had taken "prompt and appropriate action" to deal with Franki's need for a non-hostile work environment.
Allegation 6: The investigators found that there was "insufficient evidence" that Freeman retaliated against Franki when he told her to find a new advisor, nor when he and the department moved her office to another location in the building while Krygier kept his. "...it is noted that at all times the complainant maintained her pay and benefits in the department, and incurred no negative impact on her academic training or employment."
In other words, OSU exonerated itself, and the physics department--with just the slightest of reprimands to Freeman for his "poor judgement"--and the matter, as far as the university was concerned, was over. And so was Franki's career in the OSU physics department. "She felt extremely isolated," Shellie recalls. "She had to take one more class to get her MA from OSU so she could leave." Franki did that, and then she packed things and went back to Austin.
As detailed below, she told a lot of her friends about what had happened to her, although she was slow to do so except with her closest friends. But several years later, just a couple of months after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein broke, she took to Facebook to tell her story publicly for the first time (Franki's friends and family have kept her Facebook page alive as a memorial):
I normally don't like to overshare on facebook but with all the accusations and things coming out I've seen many women with similar stories saying how less isolated they feel when someone comes forward and shares their story. If just one person reading my story feels a little less alone then sharing this will be a huge success. (Also please excusing any minor typos)
I was in the PhD physics program at Ohio State and I was very, very happy there. I had many friends, I loved the city life was good. I did well in all my classes, advanced to candidacy (meaning I was done with everything but my dissertation). I had the opportunity to go on a few months long experiment in the UK that I was very excited about.
My first night in the UK I was raped by a post doc from my university in my hotel room. I was scared and confused and my memory of the whole thing was somewhat hazy. My advisor told me if I just kept my mouth shut and didn't do anything crazy and went back home then this whole thing would go away. So that's what I did. I kept my bruises hidden.
By the time I got back to the US my mom took me to an emergency room to get a rape kit done but since I was in a different country from where the attack took place the Ohio hospital staff and police were unsure how and if my rape kit would be processed. So I declined the kit. Never got my injuries documented. Never made a formal official complaint.
However, in an attempt to muddy the waters my rapist claimed to our boss who happened to be his dad that I had climbed through an impossibly small window to his room and had sex with him while he was asleep.
His wild accusations got passed around via email and the student conduct department came to talk to me. They were the first people to ask me what happened that night, so they were the first people I talked about him raping me. Still I had to be put on trial/an official disciplinary hearing where I was officially cleared of all wrongdoing in his crazy cover story.
It took months for the university to investigate my rape. My advisor (best friend for 20 years with my rapist's father) told me I could do the rest of my career at a national lab or I could get a new advisor. He didn't wait for my answer he packed up my desk and stuff put all of belongings in storage where I didn't have access to them. He even went so far as to discourage other professors from considering taking me on since I was 'in big trouble with the university'. (Note this was after I'd been cleared of all wrong doing.)
I told the new HR office people that all I wanted to do was to get back to work and not have to see this guy in person.They agreed to temporarily split the days we could be allowed in the building.
My PTSD got so bad I had to spend a week in inpatient psychiatric care. Then the next week was thanksgiving and hanukkah so I went home for a week. I was told that by not properly using my allotted work days during this two week period that the agreement would be off.
The investigation drew on for months always 'almost done' but in that time I was completely unable to physically go to work for fear of seeing my rapist.
In the end nothing ever came of it.
I didn't call the police or make my claims soon enough so my case was a he said she said. They decided that when my advisor told me not to call anywhere or do anything immediately following the rape he wasn't pressuring me not to call the police.
The said the whole kicking me out of my group, my office and just boxing up all of my stuff wasn't retaliation since they kept paying me. Oh and denying me the ability to do my job by not allowing me to go to work without fear of seeing my rapist, also not really a thing because they paid me still.
Plus even more sketchy nepotism and illegal hiring practices going on but hey, c'est la vie.
My rapist would continue to work there. So I had no choice but to leave the program, my friends, the city I loved, my whole life behind.
I'm now back at my undergrad university doing my PhD again. Only this time I had to start from complete scratch and do it all while struggling with PTSD and depression. But hey I'm recently qualified, and after this semester only have on course left
And I took a big step this year by going to a conference that my rapist was speaking at. He took have taken my life and my job from me but I'm building a new life here in Austin and am not going to let him take my career from me. I will continue to do as bad ass of hedp laser that I can.
Believer it or not thats the short version of the story. But thanks for taking the time to read this. And if anyone wants someone to reach our and talk to about whatever my messenger inbox is all open.
The following July, Franki had more to say on Facebook:
Last December in the height of the #metoo movement I came out publicly as a rape survivor. I won't rehash the whole story (but scroll down if you're interested) but today I want to talk about something very dear to my heart. The rape kit backlog.
I was raped in another country, flew immediately home and went straight to the ER to have a rape kit done. They told me my kit would never be processed as the rape occurred out of the local police's jurisdiction.
Having a rape kit done is one of the most traumatizing and painful parts of dealing with rape aftermath. Words cannot describe how hard it would have been to let people invade my bodily autonomy so soon again.
The only reason I didn't have a kit done is because I was told it wouldn't be processed and I didn't want to have to go through that trauma for nothing. I still regret that situation every day.
Yet across the country hundreds of thousands of women went through this process only for their kits to sit untested, leaving rapists free to walk our streets.
There is no excuse for this. It doesn't matter where you sit on the political spectrum this is unacceptable.
A few weeks from now marks the 5 year anniversary of my rape. In order to commemorate the occasion I'd like to ask you to consider in joining me in making a donation to http://www.endthebacklog.org/
This isn't an official facebook fundraiser so I won't get a record of who donated or how much but it would mean the world to me knowing that some people, even people I haven't spoken to in years, would make a donation.
Back in Texas, Franki tries to pick up the pieces of her life and career
As Franki was preparing to leave Ohio, she got back in touch with Todd Ditmire, her old boss at the University of Texas. "She told me what had happened," Ditmire says. "She said, can I come back and work with you?" Ditmire said yes, and Franki was soon back working on the Petawatt laser and working on her physics PhD at UT Austin. She reconnected with old friends, and made a number of new ones. Colleagues working in the lab recall how Franki, by now an old Petawatt hand, would take new students coming in under her wing, showing them the ropes in the lab and giving them support.
Two new friends, who would become very close to Franki, were Molly O'Brien and Chloe Blackmon. Chloe had come to UT for graduate school in 2015, and Molly has been living in Austin since 2017. Molly says that they connected with Franki because they shared common themes in their lives, including bouts of depression. (For Franki, depression was a new problem, which she clearly linked to what had happened to her at OSU.) Franki slowly confided in Molly and Chloe that she had been raped. "She told us within six months of our becoming friends with her," Chloe says. "She would usually talk about it when she was drunk."
Franki, Molly, and Chloe soon became part of a larger group, which included Michael Greene, a film editor who had known Franki since she was an undergrad at UT. Greene, Franki, and some others had started a fantasy football league around the time that Franki returned to Austin.
Michael says that after Franki returned to Austin they became even closer friends. "We were both night owls, she would get off work late, often she would be the one to call, wanted to get a drink. We would confide in each other a lot."
Michael also recalls that after OSU, Franki's attitude towards physics had changed. "She still liked it," Michael says, "but while she had loved doing the lasers before, now it didn't feel right for her. She changed her avenue of study three or four times after she got back to Austin, she couldn't quite figure out what she wanted to do. Near the end, she mentioned to me that she was getting off lasers. She said, 'I can't be in a lab anymore, it just reminds me of everything that is wrong.'"
One part of Franki's life that did stay steady and strong through her ups and downs was her political commitment and her sense of justice, her friends say. She was front and center in the campaign to rename the physical sciences building, known as Robert Lee Moore Hall, after a racist mathematician who refused to teach Black students. And her Facebook page bristled with outrage at the injustices of the world that had failed to treat this gifted student with the respect she deserved.
Franki also took up the cause of women in physics, doing her own research into the gender gap in SAT math scores. She also helped organize a weekly Friday lunch of women in physics to schmooze and discuss the issues.
Franki kept busy and active, but behind her gregariousness, friends detected a growing darkness. Her Facebook posts about the rape made it more clear to them what was behind it. Franki kept up a brave front, but she was going downhill. She was suffering from depression, she was drinking too much, she had gained weight, and this front of the pack scientist soon started becoming unreliable, both with her friends and her job with Todd Ditmire. "She would disappear for long periods of time," Ditmire says. "A couple of times she didn't get things done she was supposed to. I didn't know the extent of her depression. Towards the end she was really struggling."
Franki's friends say that Franki and Todd had once been very close, but her mental struggles began to put increasing distance between them. "At the end, I did get a little irritated with her," Ditmire says. "I admit I did get on her case. If I had known what was going on"--the extent to which Franki's depression was taking over her life--"I would have handled things differently."
There's a psychology professor at the University of Oregon named Jennifer Freyd, who has for years studied what she and her colleagues call "institutional betrayal." The term is almost self-defining: When an institution in which a student or other worker has put their hopes for the future--whether it be a university, a company, a fast-food restaurant, or any other kind of work--betrays that trust, the result can be even more traumatic over the long run than the original injury. "That was 100% correct for Franki," says Michael Greene. "It wasn't just OSU, which really fucked up the situation, it was the whole institution of physics." But while OSU had been disloyal to Franki, she never completely abandoned her love for OSU, Michael says. "It was weird. She would root for OSU football, she would wear OSU gear. It always baffled me."
The night Franki took her life, Molly, Chloe, Michael and other friends found out about it in a very painful way. Franki had written text messages and set them to be sent after she knew she would be gone.
"We found her suicide poster under the bed," Molly says. Franki's friends think that she wrote it during a previous suicide attempt in December 2018, but that no one saw it until she was actually successful. (In January 2019, Franki took a trip to Tanzania with a good friend. It is hard to know whether the trip was one last attempt to find some happiness, or a last adventure before she acted on a determination to end her life. Whichever the case, her friends say she was still struggling emotionally while in Africa.)
Two weeks before her suicide, Franki had her gall bladder out, Rex says. She was prescribed 28 opioid pills for the pain, but Franki insisted she wasn't in pain and she didn't take them.
But Michael Greene says that Franki was definitely in pain after the operation, a lot of it. She saved the pills for when she knew she would need them. And in her suicide note, she stated clearly who she thought was responsible for taking away her life.
A couple of weeks after Franki's death, her family and friends met behind the UT Austin physics building for a memorial service. The university president ordered the Texas flag to be flown at half mast. "The number of people who came out to honor her was really shocking," Michael says. "There was a candlelight vigil, and afterwards people just hung out by the loading dock. Then we went off to the Crown and Anchor, where we all hung out. Pretty much everyone was there."
Later on, the members of Franki's fantasy football team renamed the league trophy--which Franki had won many times--"The Franki," in her honor.
Franki's memory lives on in the hearts of her friends and family. Meanwhile, the man Franki said raped her and took away her dreams will soon be forgotten, falling into oblivion, where all monsters belong.
I do not know who to thank for first bringing Franki's story to my attention, and I may never know.
In November 2019, an anonymous "tipster" got in touch with an education writer and told her a little about Franki's story. He (the pseudonym used was a male name) said that Franki's friends felt that her story had not been properly told and they were looking for a journalist to do it. The education writer sent it to another journalist, who also did not feel it was the kind of thing they were interested in doing; that journalist, knowing my reputation as a #MeToo reporter, sent it to me.
I began corresponding with the anonymous person, who seemed to either know Franki or at least her friends. It was never clear. But slowly and steadily, I was able to make contact with many of the people who appear in this story. It was true that they wanted Franki's story told, and after some time they put me in touch with her family.
I think it is fair to say that Franki's family, at first, had ambivalent feelings about making her story public. They knew that it would make them live through the pain of her loss all over again. But they also knew that it was what Franki would have wanted. So with increasing support and friendship they gave their blessing. Meanwhile, after several months of delay, during which I had to threaten to sue OSU for violating the state's public records act, the university gave me the documents that form the backbone of this investigation.
I want to thank Rex, Pamela, and Shellie, and all of Franki's friends and colleagues for how generously they gave of their time and their memories to help make this story come alive.
Unlike all of them, I never had the honor of knowing Franki. I wish I had.