Rape-Prevention Scholar Accused of Sexual Assault, Harassment by Six Students – The Daily Beast

“Nobody is safe in the #MeToo era,” rape-prevention scholar Paul Schewe said this week. 

He’s being sued by six current and former graduate students who claim Schewe used “his power and professional position to engage in sexually inappropriate and predatory behavior” to victimize women in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Schewe, 52, has given national news interviews on sexual-violence prevention and has published dozens of papers on everything from the available services for rape and domestic-violence survivors to therapy for offenders.

The lawsuit claims that Schewe, who is currently on leave from his post as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, harassed and sexually assaulted his female students. Each of the six plaintiffs filed separate Title IX complaints against Schewe on August 12, 2018, according to the lawsuit, but the university allegedly only investigated two of the complaints. Those two Title IX investigations determined that Schewe was not guilty of violating any university policies, the lawsuit claims.

Representatives from the University of Illinois at Chicago did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast by press time on Saturday. 

For his part, Schewe told The Daily Beast on Saturday that he categorically denies many of the accusations in the lawsuit, including the sexual-assault allegation, but that some of the claims are exchanges that were simply taken out of context.

“I’ve dedicated my life to preventing sexual assault,” Schewe said over the phone. “I evaluate programs that teach men what they need to do to have healthy relationships free from violence. I’ve never disrespected any one of these PhD students.”

Three of the women’s reports, he claims, were full of “lies, fabrications, and fraudulence.”

“The girls’ story is a pretty sexy story, right?” he continued. “My story isn’t so interesting. It’s, sadly, that I intersected with this adult woman who had a difficult past who climbed into my bed, made advances towards me, and then later accused me of sexual assault.”

The lawsuit names the University of Illinois at Chicago, current and former Title IX investigators, and Schewe as defendants. The women have asked for unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief to be determined in a jury trial.

The 35-page federal complaint claims battery, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—and contends that the university’s “deliberate indifference” to Schewe’s alleged behavior created a hostile environment in violation of the students’ civil rights. It was filed in September in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois and was first-reported on Friday by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

All six women said they relied on Schewe for funding and access to professional opportunities and that they felt they were “putting their future careers and professional standings at risk” by coming forward.

Despite the Title IX investigation’s findings, Schewe’s female students said they felt “constantly pressured” to socialize with him outside of school in “unsafe environments,” including his apartment and his boat, where alcohol and drugs were allegedly present. 

The women said they felt uncomfortable with Schewe’s behavior, but that they believed their classmates who were unwilling to socialize and drink with him were “at a disadvantage in terms of opportunities, advocacy, and funding.”

In November 2017, an informal happy hour at a local restaurant organized by Schewe turned into drinks at his apartment, where he allegedly offered students marijuana edibles. While seated on the couch next to one of his students, he placed his arm around her waist, then “reached his hand up the back of her shirt, under the back of her bra, and began rubbing her back,” according to the lawsuit.

The student was intoxicated, worried about causing a scene and afraid of the power disparity between them, the federal complaint alleges. So, she froze up. 

“She did not encourage or reciprocate the back rubbing,” according to the lawsuit. Then, she fell asleep on the couch and the rest of the group—except for Schewe—left to get food.

When the group returned within 20 minutes, the lights were out, and Schewe was in his underwear, according to the lawsuit. He allegedly “placed a radio or stereo near the bedroom door with the volume turned up,” the complaint claims.

The student said she doesn’t know how she got to Schewe’s bed but remembers him entering the bedroom, laughing, rolling her over, and pulling her pants down. He allegedly performed oral sex on her, without her consent. Then she blacked out, the lawsuit contends.

When she woke up, she hurriedly left the apartment.

“She began crying as soon as she exited, realizing she had been sexually assaulted by her professor,” according to the lawsuit.

A few days later, Schewe allegedly emailed her because he noticed that when she left on Friday morning she “seemed concerned, perhaps upset.”

“On Thursday night, I thought of us just as two adults sharing time together,” Schewe allegedly wrote. “It wasn’t until later on Friday that I got to thinking. You’re a student. I’m a professor. You’re young. I’m old. Did I completely misinterpret things? I feel like I should have been more of an adult that night. That I should have shown more restraint. Talked more and assumed less. Anyways, if you’re comfortable sharing, please let me know how you’re feeling.”

The student did not respond to the email but continued to work on his grant after the alleged assault because “she desperately needed the financial assistance it provided and the chances of finding another comparable grant or fellowship was nonexistent” and “because if she refused the grant funding, she likely would have had to explain why, and she wanted to avoid recounting and reliving the assault,” the complaint claims.

Her eventual decision to file an official report came from “the realization that she was suffering in silence and no longer felt safe in her own academic department” and that Schewe “remained a threat to incoming classes of women,” especially in light of the fact that he was slated to teach a course the following semester called “Violence and Victimization.”

But Schewe said on Saturday that his accuser’s story simply isn’t what happened, adding: “I think she truly believes that something happened to her that night.”

“After a party, she crawled up in my bed, snuggled up against me, and nothing else happened,” he said. “Should I have kicked her out of my bed and gotten her an Uber in the middle of the night? Absolutely. But she was in the safest place she could’ve been. Nothing happened that was out of her control, and she had no more or less to drink than anybody else that evening.”

Schewe repeatedly claimed his accuser has a “sad history” that he said leads her to falsely accuse men of assault.

“As they should, her friends all immediately believed and supported [her]—as I would have if she told me that a professor got her drunk and assaulted her,” Schewe said.

“Today an allegation is the same as guilt,” said Schewe. “I can’t share the Title IX documents or the evidence that exonerates me. It’s sad. Unfortunately it’s false allegations that garner a lot of media attention.”

In addition to the assault, multiple students cited inappropriate behavior on Schewe’s boat. Two students said they declined up to ten invitations to hang out on their professor’s boat before they accepted over a sense of obligation and fear of negative repercussions.

When those two students arrived in August 2016, he told them “the whole point of the boat is to get away from my wife” and asked them not to take pictures, the lawsuit claims. Then, he allegedly offered them both cocaine.

Schewe, meanwhile, claims that he would never have pressured students to hang out on his boat, that the comment about his wife was a joke, and that marijuana was “around” the harbor but he does not do cocaine.

“Things taken out of context sound really terrible,” he said, adding that he believes some of the women “simply took any interaction with me that they could possibly construe as making me look bad” in order to support their friend.

When introducing another student on his boat in September 2017, Schewe allegedly said: “I only fuck my students after they’ve defended [their dissertations].”

At one event, Schewe turned to a student’s partner—at an event largedly attended by graduate students in his department—and allegedly said: “There are so many women in here I want to fuck.”

(“That does not sound like something I would ever say,” Schewe told The Daily Beast.)

During the fall 2017 semester, he texted one of his students a photo of “two naked, or almost naked, women,” which appeared to be taken from his boat or someone else’s boat, according to the lawsuit. Later that semester, when a student walked into his office, Schewe allegedly had naked pictures of a woman open on his desktop computer monitor. 

Schewe offered one student funding for the spring 2018 semester if she delayed her graduation, but, according to the lawsuit, she “could not tolerate the thought of working with, and under” Schewe for another semester “and enduring uncomfortable and inappropriate interactions with him.”

Instead of taking the offer “and staying in the world of academia and furthering her career opportunities,” she instead “chose to work a minimum wage job as a restaurant host in order to make ends meet before she secured employment as a professor,” the lawsuit states.

Ultimately, Schewe said he wishes the women would have been moved by the results of the Title IX investigations.

“In the federal lawsuit, there will be discovery, there will be depositions,” he said. “It’s going to be really difficult on these girls. I wish they had a caring mentor in their lives who had dissuaded them from going down this path.”

“Accusing someone of sexual assault is a horrible, life-changing allegation,” Schewe continued.

“I never ever imagined in a million years I’d be on this side of it,” said Schewe. “If your friend, if your daughter, if your wife, if your son tells you they were sexually assaulted, your job is to believe them and love them and support them.”

But, he added: “Before you go labelling someone as a predator, that should require a little bit of evidence. Or a few questions.”