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I was sexually assaulted by a professor writing me a LOR for grad school applications. What should I do?


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I wrote this on academia.stackexchange but I thought I might better answers here.

I'm a foreign student currently applying to extremely competitive doctoral programs in the US. Recently, one of the professors writing a letter of recommendation sexually assaulted me. I live in a country where things like this, when reported, are usually unpunished and even more difficult for the victim. I'm currently deciding what to do, all while trying to get my applications done and finishing up my last semester of my Master's program. To put it bluntly, my life is currently hell.

Severe trauma and everything aside, I'm really trying not to let this derail my academic career. My question is, would it be possible for me to contact the universities that I'm applying to and ask them if I could submit just 2 instead of the required 3 letters of recommendation? Or ask them for an extension on the deadline for one of my recommenders, if I work hard to get another professor to write me one?

With some deadlines less than a week away, I'm worried that this professor might write a bad LOR to try to keep me out of academia, or threaten me with it. Most importantly, it's too late for me to find another professor to write my letter of recommendation at this point in time (unless I can explain the situation to them, but even then, that would be extremely difficult). There are many, many students applying for the same programs that I am applying to in my department.

However, I'm also wary of spinning what might seem like a sob story to admissions committees, even though this is not my intention at all. I'm not sure how something like this would be viewed in the US. Please, I would appreciate any advice on this matter.

Edited by wlsWKglaemfek
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I am really sorry to hear that such a terrible thing has happened and I am very impressed by how strong you are being. You are absolutely right not to let this derail your career. When you say that your supervisor may threaten you with not giving you a reference you seem to be suggesting that you are still having to see him. I hope for your sake that this is not the case. In all of these instances I would advise that you see if you can speak confidentially to a counsellor (if your current school has them). If you do not want to speak to someone on campus I know that there are other helplines and it is likely that they will have knowledge of similar situations and how to handle them. As a foreign student you may also find that there are resources/helplines specific to your country that you can speak with - there is an American one called  http://www.866uswomen.org for Americans overseas and they may be able to direct you to an equivalent for your country, or I would suggest you could call https://www.rainn.org/international-sexual-assault-resources

It is unclear from what you wrote whether or not you will ask for an alternate reference from your current school or from someone outside of it. On many of the forms I filled in you could request more references than needed, so If it is someone external (who won't be communicating with your professor) who you would ask for reference then you could simply put that into action and not tell your current professor that you have found an alternate. This way you may receive 4 references and can ask for his to be discounted.

I have read on many forums here that schools accept late letters of recommendation if the rest of the form is complete and submitted by the deadline, it is possible that this may apply to your programmes too. So perhaps you could checking by contacting the universities - you do not have to explain all of your reasons at this stage but ask what their policy is on late recommendations.

I hope that this advice is any way helpful.

Edited by mjl89
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@wlsWKglaemfek I have so many things I want to tell you but let me start by quickly saying this, just on the practical side of things (and please don't take this to mean that I in any way underestimate all the other implications of this terrible thing that has happened to you): I think you may run into trouble if you only submit two letters. At least in some cases, it may automatically disqualify your application because it is an official requirement that you've not met. So asking to only submit two letters would be difficult. If at all possible, I would suggest trying to replace the offender with another letter, even if it's short or not as strong. This may require telling some white lie to some secretary about this person encountering a problem getting letters done in time and asking that they be replaced in the application system, in cases where you may not be able to do this alone (some systems won't let you change LOR info once you've entered it). And I'd say ask someone, anyone, else for a LOR, and do it as soon as you can. It's very often the case that LOR writers get extra time to submit their letters beyond the official deadline given to applicants. So it's worth a try, and they may still have 2+ weeks. If your other two letters are strong, a just so-so third letter shouldn't be a big problem. It's quite often the case that students don't have that many strong personal relationships with professors at the undergrad stage and end up with one letter that's weaker than the others.

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@wlsWKglaemfek I am sorry that you were assaulted and your trust betrayed.

Please give thought to contacting the ombudsman's office/department at each of the schools to which you're applying. Give the facts, outline what you'd want to do, and hear what they have to say.

Pie in the sky, the ombudsman at a particular school uses her good offices to contact the department to which you're replying and/or the graduate school and gets you a green light for sending in two LoRs while maintaining a level of privacy that you feel comfortable.

IRT your concerns for being perceived as weaving a "sob story," you might mitigate that concern by doing research on how each of your preferred schools approach sexual violence. It may turn out that a department has addressed similar situations and has ways to work with you while not cutting you any breaks (e.g. substitute an interview for the third LoR). 

It's unclear from your OP if you're currently in the United States or if you're in your homeland. If you're in the U.S. give thought to reporting the attack to your school and the police. This may not be the first time this has happened and your disclosure may lead to your attacker being held accountable, if not convicted of a crime.



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I am truly very sorry for what happened to you. It's awful, I hope you have friends or someone to talk to... Feel free to pm me, of course. You are very strong.

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Letting everyone else here take the lead on the LOR and application part, I just want to tell you that you are not alone. No one can tell you whether to report this professor or not, but I would really suggest finding someone to talk to about it, specifically a professional like an advocate, social worker, LMHC, etc. Most schools offer free counseling on campus; that is the one thing I would highly suggest doing because even if you handle applications like a BOSS (which I am sure you will), you don't want the trauma to bite you in the ass out of nowhere when you're kicking a** in your doctoral program. I speak from experience, and as a social worker. Before disclosing the name of the professor, or even the incident, I would ask the counselor a hypothetical, as they may be mandated by Title IX to report to the school, and you don't want to be pressured into disclosing.

Being in a country that isn't where you're from can be really difficult and isolating without sexual trauma. Please find someone to talk to. 

Please keep in touch if you're comfortable. Wishing you all the best.


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