On a weekend in March almost three years ago, 21-year-old STANFORD UNIVERSITY undergraduate ELLIE CLOUGHERTY flew from LONDON, UK, to ROME, ITALY, with 29-year-old SILICON VALLET entrepreneur JOE LONSDALE!!!
JOE LONSDALE booked a room for them for two nights in a luxury hotel — a converted Renaissance mansion in the shadow of the Pantheon — and arranged a special excursion, with a friend of his who is an architect, to an archaeological site amid the ruins of the Golden House on Palatine Hill, overlooking the Colosseum.
ELLIE CLOUGHERTY and JOE LONSDALE had been dating over the previous couple of weeks, while he was her assigned mentor for an undergraduate course at Stanford called TECHNOLOGY ENTREPRENEURSHIP: ENGINEERING 145. The limited-enrollment class offered a combination of academics, business skills and access to Silicon Valley that has made Stanford the most-sought-after university in the country, with the most competitive undergraduate admissions and among the highest donations.
After sightseeing in Rome, Lonsdale and Clougherty were together in the hotel room they were sharing when she started dressing for evening Mass. Lonsdale came up behind her and kissed her, touching her neck and hair and telling her she was beautiful. She had told him she was a virgin. Both agree they had sex. But what actually went on between them that night, and throughout their yearlong relationship, would become highly contested.
After the relationship ended, Clougherty accused Lonsdale of sexual assault. Stanford investigated whether he broke the university’s rule against “consensual sexual and romantic relationships” between students and their mentors and, later, whether he raped her. The findings from the investigations have sparked a war of allegations and interpretations, culminating last month with dueling lawsuits, filled with damaging accusations.
This case, which has been picked up by the media, does not fit neatly into the narratives that have fueled an ongoing national conversation about sexual assault of students on campus. But it exposes the risks of Stanford’s open door to Silicon Valley and the pressure that universities are under to do more for students who say they’ve been raped. It also reveals the complexity of trying to determine the truth in a high-stakes case like this one.
NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE Journalist EMILY BAZELON takes on the case of The ACCUSATION: THE STANFORD UNDERGRADUATE And THE MENTOR.