|Franki Aymond (Courtesy of Rex Aymond)|
a graduate student in physics at the University of Texas, Austin, and beloved by her family and many friends.
Franki left a suicide note under her bed. It was written on a large piece of cardboard, perhaps four feet high and three feet wide.
"Monsters are real," it began.
"I was raped by one.
"Sometimes the monsters win.
"I apologize to anyone this monster hurts for not being able to stop him.
"I thought surviving might be enough but it's not."
Franki went on to leave personal instructions for her friends and family, including for the care of her dog and two cats.
"Love, Franki," she signed off.
The man Franki accused of raping her is Andrew Krygier, a fellow physicist. The alleged rape took place in 2013, when Franki was a physics graduate student at Ohio State University (OSU) and Krygier was a post-doctoral scientist in the same research group. Krygier, today, does not want to talk about what happened. But at the time, he had plenty to say. In a long email just hours after the events, he told the head of their research group, Professor Richard Freeman, that Franki had raped him. OSU investigated that claim, and found it was not supported. Then OSU investigated Franki's accusation that Krygier raped her. The university could not come to any conclusions about that.
The two investigations left behind a paper trail of more than 400 pages of documents, as well as several audio files of interviews. The university has long had a bad and notorious national reputation for its failures to deal adequately with sexual misconduct accusations. The evidence suggests that the university did not do any better by Franki. Whatever the case, she had to leave OSU, although the circumstances of her departure are in dispute.
Krygier has gone on to a successful career in high energy density physics, the field both he and Franki specialized in. He is now at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, doing important research. Franki is gone, although she lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her.
This is her story.
A mathematical childhood.
Frances Wright Aymond was born on October 22, 1988 in Dallas, Texas. Her mother is Pamela Buchmeyer, and her father is Rex Aymond. Pamela, whose father was a federal judge, is a lawyer and a writer; Rex had a long career in the sales of electronic components. In 1992, Pamela and Rex adopted Franki's sister, Robin. But when Franki was seven years old, her parents divorced. Both Pamela and Rex went on to marry other people. More than 19 months after her daughter's death, it is still too painful for Pamela to talk about it; but she has given her blessing to the telling of Franki's story.
Rex says that Franki showed signs of being a math wiz from a very young age. "We would be in line at the grocery story," Rex recalls, "and I would look down at her and say something like, 'What's the change for $17.28 from a twenty dollar bill?'" Franki would immediately chirp out the right amount. So when Franki reached the fourth grade, she began attending a magnet school that featured math competitions, and went on to attend high school at the Science and Engineering Magnet (SEM) in Dallas. In the ninth grade, Franki began taking college level courses in biological, chemistry, and physics.
One of Franki's best friends in high school was Thomas Jung, who was also born and raised in Dallas. Thomas was a sophomore when Franki came in as a freshman, but she soon skipped a grade and they became classmates. Thomas recalls her in calculus class. "She blew it out of the water," Thomas says. "She got a perfect score."
In high school, Thomas says, "I was an awkward, shy kind of guy. I felt like I didn't fit in very well. But Franki accepted everybody. She had the ability to look past what kids were wearing or how much money you had." Already in high school, Thomas says, Franki was showing clear signs of the commitment to social justice that would be a big part of the rest of her life.
Franki and Thomas were friends all through high school, and competed on the math team together. "She was intellectually on a different level," Thomas says. "She brought a whole new perspective to me." After Franki's parents divorced, her mother, Pamela, came out as gay. Thomas recalls how proud Franki was of her. "Coming from a conservative Korean background, I never imagined that was okay," Thomas says. "Franki explained to me what being gay was. She was very happy that her mother was able to finally be herself and who she wanted to be."
Having skipped a grade, Franki graduated from high school a year early, in 2006, with Highest Honors. It was clear she would go into the sciences. "She picked physics because it was the 'mathiest' of the sciences," Rex says. Franki was wait-listed by Harvard, MIT, and CalTech, but the University of Texas at Austin accepted her on the first pass. So off she went.
|The young Franki/ Courtesy of Rex Aymond|
|Franki and her sister Robin/ courtesy Rex Aymond|
Franki at the University of Texas: Laser focused.
Franki took to the University of Texas and to Austin like a duck to water. She quickly made new friends, and just as quickly, she jumped into the heart of high powered physics. UT Austin was, and is, home to one of the world's most powerful laser facilities, the Texas Petawatt Laser. Petawatt lasers generate light with at least a million billion watts of power--nearly 100 times the output of all the world's power plants--for very brief spurts of time.
It didn't take long before Franki and the laser met face to face.
"She was just a freshman," recalls Todd Ditmire, director of UT's Center for High Energy Density Science. One of the physics faculty was so impressed with Franki's performance in the physics lab that he brought her to meet Todd. "She spent four years here," Ditmire says. "She did her senior thesis here. She was so great, a real go-getter. I loved the heck out of Franki. People in physics can be awkward, but she was a dynamo."
"Franki was really popular with the grad students," recalls Kristina Serratto, who worked in the laser lab at the time. "She had a lot of friends. She was the life of the party, everyone liked her. She was fun, gregarious, outgoing, she had a good sense of humor. She was one of Todd's favorite students, they got on well."
Nirmala Kandadai was a graduate student in Ditmire's research group at the time Franki started working there. She and Franki became fast friends. Nirmala, who is now an assistant professor at Boise State University, says that Franki was "amazing" in everything she did. Even though Franki was still an undergraduate student, she and Nirmala tool a graduate course in non-linear optics together. "She did brilliantly."
But Franki was not just fanatic about physics. She was also an avid sports fan. "She taught me how to follow basketball," Nirmala says, "the game and league concept." When, in 2009, Nirmala went to India to get married, Franki traveled to Hyderabad to be at the wedding.
"Her family story was an open book and she was bright, extroverted, and happy," Nirmala adds.
Nirmala, and many other of Franki's friends, were also struck by Franki's strong sense of social justice. "She was always involved in a cause," Nirmala says. "From finding homes for homeless people--Franki knew all the homeless people on Austin's Guadalupe Street--to making a video for Omar Kokabee," a physics doctoral student at UT who was imprisoned for five years in Iran.
Franki had another good friend at UT. It was Thomas Jung, who entered the university at the same time to major in chemistry and Asian studies. During their sophomore year, Franki and Thomas decided to be roommates, and lived together for two years. "Franki was very much into her physics clique," Thomas says, but he and his girlfriend of the time would sometimes join in social events.
Then Thomas and his girlfriend split up, and Thomas fell into a depression. "Franki was there for me," he says. "She got me to go see a therapist." Thomas says that Franki dated a couple of people herself, and had one bad breakup that "affected her quite a bit." While they were just friends, Thomas says, "we always joked that if we were not married by 35 we would marry each other."
Thomas and Franki even traveled together, including a big trip to Korea and Japan.
Thomas says that Franki was a big advocate for women in the sciences. "She helped me understand what feminism was," Thomas says. "She said feminism was just about being equal, it wasn't like the other 'isms.'"
In 2010, Franki graduated from UT with her bachelor's degree. She had taken four years to get her degree, even though she already had 45 hours of credit from the college classes she took in high school.
"I asked her why it took her four years to get an undergraduate degree when she had such a big head start," Rex remembers. "She said, "Dad, I'm not going to be in grad school and one evening everyone says let's go have a beer and I have to say, sorry, I can't, I'm not 21.'"
The four years Franki spent as an undergraduate at UT Austin were probably the happiest of her life. Little did she know that a long and dark path loomed just ahead.
|Franki at the Texas Petawatt Laser/Courtesy Rex Aymond|
|Franki in the laser lab/Courtesy Rex Aymond|
|Franki and Thomas Jung in Tokyo|
At Ohio State University and in the UK, a dream turns into a nightmare.
After graduation, Franki stayed in Austin for a while, continuing to work in Ditmire's lab. But one day OSU physicist Richard Freeman came to visit, and met Franki. He suggested that she come and do a PhD with her at OSU. Franki said yes.
At OSU, Franki stood out as a brilliant student, just as she had at UT Austin. Before long, Freeman offered her a very exciting opportunity: She would go to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, not far from Oxford in the UK, to do some experiments with British and American colleagues. Franki jumped at the chance. Also joining the team was Andrew Krygier, a postdoc in Freeman's group. And so in early August, 2013, Franki and Andrew flew from Columbus to Washington, D.C., and then on to London, where they made their way to the historic little town of Abingdon-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. On Sunday, August 4, they checked into their B&B, Kingfisher Barn, and then met up with friends and colleagues for drinks.
The following morning, August 5, Andrew Krygier sent Richard Freeman an email that would change Franki's life forever. He accused her of raping him earlier that morning.
I am extremely disturbed by some events that have occurred this evening/morning in Abingdon which require immediate action."
Krygier went to to describe how he and Franki met up with friends and colleagues in Abingdon for drinks, visiting two local pubs, the Nags Head and the King's Head and Bell. Then he and Franki left the pub and walked together to their B&B. At the B&B, they joined another group of what Krygier called "foreigners" partying in their room for about another hour. It was clear that both Franki and Krygier drank a fair bit that evening.
About 2 am, Krygier wrote, they went to their separate rooms and went to bed.
"At some point later I woke up, in my bed, with Franki on top of me, having sex with me. I had no interest or intention of having sex with her and more than a few people know that not only do I not like her or have any romantic interest in her, I actively dislike her."
Krygier went on to name people that he said he had told he did not like Franki. "I also have more than a few times sent comments to a wide range of people expressing my extreme dislike for her." (Exactly why Krygier did that has never been made clear.)
Krygier gave Freeman a few more details about what he claimed had happened, including his contention that Franki had climbed through a window to get into his room. He attached a photo of the small window he said she entered. Then he gave Freeman his bottom line:
"She cannot be part of this experiment and I absolutely refuse to have any professional or personal relationship of any kind from this moment forward. Frankly, I would be completely unsatisfied with anything less than a dismissal from the university."
The record of emails strongly suggests that Freeman did not question Krygier's story. At least, there is no evidence that he asked Franki to give her version of events. And what happened next would convince Franki from then on that Freeman, who was very good friends with Krygier's parents, could not be trusted to have her interests at heart.
It happened that Krygier's parents, Jim and Melissa, were vacationing in the UK at the time, not too far away from Abingdon. On Monday morning, August 5, Freeman emailed Franki to tell her that Andrew's father was going to come see her at her hotel:
Jim Krygier is coming to interview you late Tuesday
morning at your B&B concerning the incident of Sunday night.
You are to remain at your B&B and not attempt to go to RAL
You are to follow Jim's instructions to the letter.
We need to pause here and really focus on the implications of Freeman's email to Franki. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that after having a number of drinks, Franki really did enter Krygier's room and rape him. Rape is grievously wrong no matter who does it to whom. But to learn that the father of the man she was accused of raping was about to come into her B&B room and tell her what to do would have been deeply traumatizing. Now let's assume, as Franki claimed from the very beginning, that Krygier had raped her. Now, the father of the man who raped her was coming to her room to tell her what to do. The trauma from that prospect would have been even greater.
Fortunately, for reasons that have never been fully explained, Freeman and Jim Krygier thought the better of the plan, and Andrew's father never made an appearance at the B&B. Why they changed their minds has never been made clear, although the OSU investigators later found the idea to have been inappropriate and told Freeman so. In extensive email exchanges with me, many of which were off the record, Freeman never satisfactorily explained the change of mind either.
Instead, working with a colleague in the UK, Freeman arranged for Franki to return to OSU as quickly as possible. She was given no chance to talk to the local UK police, and in fact Freeman and others actively discouraged her from doing so. Franki, with a hazy memory of what had happened and still clearly in shock, did as she was told.
Franki, accused of rape and still in shock, returns to OSU to face an investigation.
After her divorce from Rex, Franki's mother Pamela married Shellie Crandall, who works in what is known as the cash logistics industry (the handling of large amounts of cash, such as in armored trucks.) Pamela is still in too much pain over Franki's death to talk about her daughter, but she designated Shellie to relate what happened next.
When, on Freeman's instructions, Franki returned to Columbus, Ohio, home of OSU, Pamela and Shellie were there to meet her at the airport. "Franki told us that she and Andy had taken the flight to the UK together. They were both drinking on the plane, but at a certain point Franki stopped drinking. Andy kept on and became very inebriated. The stewardess had to cut him off." Franki told Pamela and Shellie that Krygier had, for some reason, talked about a date rape drug.
Franki told them that the morning of August 5, after she had supposedly raped Krygier, she went to the B&B lobby to meet up with him and other colleagues who were going to participate in the experiments at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. John Morrison, a former student of Freeman's who was going to work on the experiment with them at the RAL, said, "Franki there is a problem." She then got both a call and email from Freeman telling her she had to come home right away.
Pamela and Shellie were in Ohio at the time. "We had a small house in Cleveland, we spent summers there," Shellie says. Franki came to stay with them while they figured out what to do. Franki told Pamela and Shellie right away that she had been sexually assaulted. Pamela, a lawyer, arranged for tests to be done, including a test of Franki's hair to detect the possible presence of a date rape drug, but her hair tested negative.
"Franki was an emotional wreck," Shellie recalls. "We were not sure what had happened, whether she had been drugged or was intoxicated. Franki was doing everything she could not to get kicked out of the program."
Franki stayed in the Cleveland house for at least a week, during which she got emails from Freeman that were "very disturbing" to her, Shellie says. Franki also mentioned Freeman's plan to have Jim Krygier come to her B&B, a traumatic turn of events that she would tell friends about for much of the rest of her life.
"Franki got totally bullied," Shellie says. "She said, 'I didn't do anything, I was the one sexually assaulted.' She felt trapped and very pressured. It was like she was an embarrassment to Ohio State. She felt so ashamed and distraught. She knew that the Freemans and Krygiers were good friends."
In one of his email exchanges with this reporter, Freeman made a big point of the alleged fact that Franki did not tell him or others at OSU that Andrew had raped her until at least a couple of weeks later. Freeman claimed that Franki told everyone she did not remember anything. The implication was that Franki had made up her story that Andrew raped her to cover for what she had done. But there is another interpretation, of course: Andrew Krygier was the son of one of Freeman's best friends. Franki no longer trusted him.
While Franki was trying to understand what was going on and her family was trying to help her, OSU's disciplinary machine lurched into motion. On August 8, Justin Moses, director of the university's Student Conduct office, created a charge sheet on which Franki was accused of violating OSU Rule 3335-23-04, a long list of prohibited behavior. The specific charge was "Non-consensual sexual intercourse."
On August 9, Moses wrote to Franki, informing her of the charges--a second count of "Non-consensual sexual contact" had been added--and directing her to contact Student Conduct to make an appointment to discuss the charges.
Before that happened, however, Franki, together with Pamela and Shellie, went to see a student counselor to discuss the situation. Shellie remembers it very well.
"We were in the counselor's office," she says. "A lady gave Franki an email from Andrew saying various things. I never liked Franki and she raped me. The counselor said, 'Here's the other side of the story.' I was floored that the counselor would do that. It seemed the counselor was not neutral."
It was the first time Franki had seen the actual accusations from Krygier. "Franki was extremely distraught when she saw read that," Shellie says. At that point, Franki, along with Pamela and Shellie, decided to officially report Andrew for raping her.
The Student Conduct appointment took place on August 23, with Moses himself as the "Hearing Officer." Moses memorialized the meeting (or hearing, the notes refer to the session both ways) in six pages of "Meeting Notes." This would be the most detailed account of events reported by Franki herself, just 18 days after the events in Abingdon. Although what Franki said was inevitably filtered through Moses's note taking, some key points come through clearly:
-- "Franki commented that she barely knows Andrew Krygier... their interactions outside of work were pretty limited."
-- "Franki commented that she and Andrew Krygier left Columbus OH on August 3rd around 2:30 pm in the afternoon from the Columbia Airport... Prior to leaving the airport they did go to the bar and she had 1 drink (Columbus Brewing Company IPA--22oz) and Andrew had 2 drinks."
-- "Franki and Andrew arrived in a Washington D.C. airport between 3:30 and 4:00pm... [during their three hour layover before the flight to London Heathrow Airport] "she had two beers, and Andrew had approximately 4-5 alcoholic beverages..."
-- "During their time at the Columbus and DC airports Andrew spoke about his ex-girlfriend and he also made note of sexual relationships and encounters he had while he was in Europe in the past."
-- "Franki commented that he specifically discussed having to search for condoms while he was there on his last trip to Europe and provided some details about his sexual encounters on his previous trip... He also made a comment noting that he has had to buy some more condoms since he doesn't have a girlfriend right now."
-- "Prior to boarding the airplane to London, Andrew suggested that she sit next to him as there was more room in the section that he had bought a ticket in... [Franki told Moses that she did not sit next to him but in a seat nearby. Andrew continued to drink until the flight steward cut him off.]
(In the next page or two of notes, Franki describes the arrival at the hotel in Abingdon and the drinks she and Krygier had with colleagues, the party in the B&B, and so forth. These details are fairly consistent with Krygier's own account in his email to Freeman.)
-- "Franki commented that after she went to her room she did not leave her room nor did she enter or break into Andrew's room... Franki commented that she did not assault Andrew in any way and did not rape him or force herself on him sexually."
-- "Franki commented that when she woke up the next morning she was in her bedroom and she was nude.... She commented that she recalls Andrew being in her room that night and that he did not have any clothes on.... She also recalls some stains on her comforter but does not know the source of the stains. She does not remember the stains being there before she went to bed.... She also mentioned that she had bruisees on her arm and inner thigh."
-- "Franki commented that she feels that Andrew came into her room.... She noted that she believes she was the victim of a sexual assault and not Andrew."
The rest of the notes detail Franki's recollections about the aftermath, including Freeman's instructions to her to stay put until Jim Krygier arrived, her return to Columbus, and the efforts by her mother and Shellie to have the appropriate tests done. Franki described how they went to a hospital emergency room to get a rape kit done, but were told that too much time had passed. About the same time, she learned from an OSU physics department faculty member and a staff member that Krygier's allegations against her had already begun circulating in several OSU offices. Franki also asked why, if she had really raped Krygier, he and others in the UK, or Freeman, had not alerted the police.
A few further issues from Moses's notes:
-- "[Franki] also noted that that Rick Freeman seemed to believe Andrew's story and that no one asked her side of the story or explained any details of the allegation."
-- "The window in question to Andrew's room only opens a short distance and it would seem to be impossible for her to climb into the window. Franki also noted that at 5' tall it would not seem possible for her to be able to reach into the window and be able to unlock it."
Finally, the last entry in Moses's notes:
-- "Franki feels that by urging her to leave the country, not giving her details of the allegations, not contacting the authorities and telling her everything would be fine and this whole incident would go away, that University faculty members have made it impossible for her to collect evidence to properly defend herself."
A couple of weeks later, Franki was presented with the choice of accepting responsibility for the allegations against her or denying responsibility and requesting a formal hearing before the University Conduct Board, which included faculty members. Franki chose the latter course. That hearing took place on September 27, 2013.
On that same day, Frances "Franki" Aymond was exonerated of all charges against her.
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."
Franki finally gets her shot at justice. It fails, and she leaves OSU.
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.
|Courtesy of Rex Aymond|
|Courtesy of Rex Aymond|
|Franki with "The Franki" at The Bean in Chicago|
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.
Update: A few people have already asked me why I published this story on my blog and not elsewhere (I have also reposted it on Medium.)
Last year I wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review in which I explained why I do it this way with my #MeToo stories. It should answer any questions.