I have to thank Candice Russell. Although it might not have been her intent, she provided me with relief from two weeks of waiting for a rumor to drop that I had no clue of what it could possibly be. I could not confirm, negate, or address anything because I had no idea of what I was dealing with. With the release of her well written piece on Medium, I can now respond with the facts that I am familiar with.
I know Candice as a friend, having met her on a flight that we were on, departing from a meeting in New England in the spring of 2015. I know her to be bright, a talented writer, and someone who had already become a public figure through her advocacy and writing on reproductive health issues. We had mutually satisfying conversation on our Southwest flight that allowed us to sit together after I saved a seat for her to continue our conversation that began in the waiting area for our flight. We exchanged contact information and began a texting and calling correspondence that continued for over a year before we were ever in the same space. Over that time there were many conversations about many things, some of which she refers to in the piece she has written describing me as having preyed upon her. While surprised and disappointed that she has described the mutual decision to have a sexual encounter as a situation where I took advantage of her while she was intoxicated, this allegation does not square up with the facts.
First, Candice is entitled to her story. I don’t know why she is now remembering the whole of our acquaintance or our sexual encounter differently, but her story is her story. I don’t have to call her a liar. Every person who feels like they have been wronged has a right to be heard. As I listen to the story that she published, it bares no resemblance to what transpired. I won’t rewrite her story. I’ll just state what I know in response to what she has described.
-Candice and I never had a mentoring relationship. She has never been under my supervision, has never asked me for professional guidance, advice or anything related to her advancement or path. I have mentored many people, but Candice is not one of them.
-Candice described me as a teetotaler, who intentionally didn’t drink when she had drinks as we met for beverages. I have never used alcohol in my life. Whenever she and I met on the few occasions that we were in the same city, it was usually in the evening in a hotel lounge or bar where if we ordered something, I would pick up the tab. I never concealed my non-alcohol use from her. I never brought her a drink back from a bar. We would often be seated and have orders brought to us I have never seen Candice drunk, including on the night we had sex. If she met up with me when I was in a city convenient to her to meet up, she was driving. I would have never ridden with someone who was drunk. On the evening that she is describing that we had our only sexual encounter after corresponding in a mutually flirtatious manner by text for over a year and a half, when she came to my room, she walked under her own power, neither her speech or motor functions were impaired, and she self-invited to stay. I was receptive as she made her interest in our encounter known. If she had four martinis when she was with me as she said, I didn’t buy them, and she was not impaired in the way that I would have expected her to be if she had consumed that much alcohol. In her article, she indicates that she drank a whole bottle of wine in my room. I don’t purchase alcohol for myself. I never had a bottle of wine in my room, and If I gave someone a whole bottle of wine to drink after watching them drink 4 martinis, I would be putting them at risk for alcohol poisoning. I have never used alcohol or anything else to impair anyone at any time.
-Candice says that she was drunk when we had sex. That is a serious allegation because if we had sex while she was drunk, she could not have consented and that means that I sexually assaulted her. I take that very seriously. As someone who has unfortunately had to be the respondent to women who have been assaulted while using alcohol, I know what that means for them. My clarity about that is why I have never been sexual with anyone where alcohol is involved. I don’t police people when they drink around me, but I have never dated anyone who did more than drink socially, and I have never been sexual with anyone who appeared remotely impaired.
I have never had sex with anyone without obtaining their consent or giving mine. Consent is core to my practice of medicine, and for precisely the same reason it has been core to my sexual practices as well. I could not take someone for surgery who has been drinking, and I wouldn’t take someone to bed who had been drinking either. There was nothing about Candice’s behavior on that night that would have indicated to me that she was intoxicated. She stayed the night, the next morning we had breakfast, and we had plans to meet up after the meeting I was in town to speak for, a meeting that she was not a part of. We had several correspondences via text afterward that indicated that she was pleased with our time together and that her only regret was that we didn’t get more time. We did not see each other anymore during that trip. I have those texts.
-Candice and I corresponded by text after we had our sexual encounter in October of 2016, through June of 2017. During that time we continued to talk, sought to figure out where our schedules overlapped geographically, and made plans to stay connected, without expressing any intent about what would happen if we were able to get together. Our last correspondence was in June of 2017 when she solicited whether I would be interested in speaking at an event in Texas that she was affiliated with. I informed her that someone else affiliated with the event had already reached out to me and I would keep her posted about the outcome. This was all during a time that I was in the middle of my book tour, and we lost touch after that until October of 2017, when I saw her at the Sistersong Conference in New Orleans. She had not indicated that she would be there as we had not spoken, and when I saw her we exchanged pleasantries. I had committed to doing an interview that evening. She asked me to text her if we could connect later. I never had the chance. After giving my interview that evening and my opening remarks in the plenary the next morning, I ended up having to leave early to avoid inclement weather stranding me there, placing me at risk for missing my speaking engagement in California. We never spoke again. Her posting on Medium is the first thing that I have heard from Candice since that time. I have text messages to back this up.
As strange as it might sound, I don’t regret meeting Candice, and I would not take back any of the admirable things I said about her intellect or writing. To do so would be to engage in a practice that I caution my abortion patients against all the time: regret is when you hope for a different past. There was no way for me to know that Candice would feel different about our mutual sexual encounter after the fact, now indicating that the thought of it makes her want to crawl out of the skin I touched, a hard thing to hear. I don’t regret taking her at her word when she indicated that she wanted to come to my room because we were both feeling a desire that, per her accurate statement about it being unspoken, was mutual. What made that evening mutual was that I gave my consent by allowing her to come to my room. Although she now states that she feels differently about what happened between us, this piece is the first indication that I have about how she now feels. Every communication between us after that night, for eight months, consisted of mutual compliments, pleasantries, and me responding to inquiries about when we might meet up again. There was never anything in our communications that lead me to believe that she felt troubled in any way about what happened between us. Again, I have text messages to prove this.
Here’s what I do regret about Candice and this whole situation:
I regret that, per her piece, she has decided to indict either journalists or the reproductive justice movement for, by her estimate, not having her back. Unless I’m misunderstanding her, she accuses “the movement” of subordinating her account of our interaction to the interests of the reproductive justice work that I’ve committed my life to. She implies that their willingness to protect the “predator” that she makes me out to be, lead them to turn a blind eye. to my alleged misdeeds, creating a zero sum game between supporting the MeToo movement and abortion access. It appears that her effort to get her account published was thwarted by an inability of others to distinguish between her account of my interaction with her, a consensual encounter that she now regrets, and the first of what should be multiple allegations of women who have had the same experience with me if I am indeed the predator that she describes. The solicitation in her title for others that have had the same experience with me to speak up and speak out means that she believes that there are others to come forward. As a person who values my privacy as much as anyone else, the reality is that Candice is the only person even remotely connected to the reproductive rights world that I have been sexual with, and even that connection is not a direct one. If she wasn’t an advocate in her own right, attached to our community, I would not have to answer to the public about my decision to have sex with her. But for our chance meeting on a flight after a meeting we both attended, I wouldn’t know her. That said, I don’t have regrets when I have done nothing wrong.
I regret that Candice has decided to exploit the Me Too Movement and the behavior of two men at leading reproductive rights organizations, making our community hyper-reactive to claims of sexual misconduct. Her decision to do so has caused a rift in the reproductive health community that will require repair work for a long time. Her assertion that the community subordinated her interests to mine polarizes people into “Why didn’t you believe her?”, and “Why do you believe him?” camps. From what I can gather, as evidenced by the two weeks of people prepping their response, she shopped this piece around and couldn’t get it published. The people in movement will have to decide how they feel about her indictment, but I have an impression about the harm I think that it poses to the Me Too Movement, as a supporter of it with plans to do a deeper dive in helping it to be unassailable when people use it for ill-conceived reasons.
Finally, now that Candice has had her say, here’s what I know to be true:
At no time in my life, professionally or personally, have I ever been inappropriate with anyone sexually or otherwise, as a peer, supervisor, or in any other capacity .
I have never used alcohol or any other substance to alter my consciousness or to impair the consciousness of anyone else at any time.
I have never harassed, groomed, coerced, or leveraged any position of authority that I have held over anyone for favors of any kind.
I have never knowingly used suggestive language, touched anyone, or ever been told. in any situation that my language or behavior made someone uncomfortable.
I can make the above statements as stand alone facts and without condition. It has been my certainty of these things that has kept me sane in the midst of this when it was rumors, and it holds me now. These are also the facts that I would have attested to at any time had anyone called me. To date, I have not heard from any journalist, reputable or otherwise, to weigh in on a story related to this issue, and I now know why. Someone wasn’t sure where the truth was without any facts. No one from any of the organizations within the reproductive rights community that I have worked with as an advocate for the past 10 years called me to say this is out there, what do you say? I don’t say that with any sense of entitlement, but many have proceeded under the assumption that everything Candice said is true. My confidence to make these statements is rooted in my unshakeable belief that when truth is known, people will do right by it. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can provide support for all of the things I’ve said.
The nature of how this is playing out creates the appearance that this is a “Me Too” situation. If it is being represented or perceived as such, it is a disservice to real efforts to stop harm to women, and actually is Me Too “cannibalism” in that I fully endorse Me Too, and as a result of this will become a more explicit part of the movement. My confidence is that the Me Too Movement is not a gendered opportunity for vigilantism against all men, standing indicted of patriarchy, misogyny, and sexual predation simply by virtue of being male. This is a movement started by Tarana Burke to dismantle, prevent, and respond to socially sanctioned sexual predation that for too long women have been vulnerable to. Me Too’s key power is to make public what has occurred in the shadows and to lance the festering boil of sexual misconduct largely by men against women, but its integrity has to lie in its commitment to creating spaces for victims of any demographic to come forward and be heard and given the benefit of the doubt and support, while at the same time having all claims vetted by the standard employed in international diplomacy: trust but verify. The complimentary component of Me Too, if it is to be the just movement that I believe it to be, is its additional responsibility to insist on due process of allegations without compromising responsiveness to people alleging harm by sexual misconduct. This due diligence cannot simply be a probabilistic reasoning of likelihood that the person coming forward is telling the truth, it has to be a commitment to following facts where they lead. Otherwise, Me Too stands perpetually at risk for the impugning of its integrity when an unprincipled person makes an untruthful claim using the support of the movement. I think that this movement is too important to allow this to happen. We cannot allow there to be a zero-sum game between the capacity to be responsive to people who come forward and a true hesitancy by this movement to commit injustice against people accused in the pursuit of justice and fairness for victims. I believe this movement has to have the power to do that, but if not, it must development the ability to do so. Dr. Martin Luther King once said that the “end has to be preexistent in the means”. In other words, there is no right way to do the wrong thing.
The truth will do. What is truth? Facts rightly interpreted. You have heard Candice’s story, which is her right to tell. Now your task is to see how it squares up with the facts. I’ll readily make the information I have available to anyone who wants to see it.