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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sexual Assault at the Smithsonian

On June 3rd 2011, Angie Doe went to student/Staff happy hour. This is where she encountered Miguel Pinto. The two didn't know each other well but after a bit of conversation Pinto asked to borrow her phone. Angie agreed and went to use a nearby bathroom. When she returned she found Pinto accessing the internet on her phone. She angrily asked for the phone back. According to reports from The Verge
"He suddenly grabbed her buttocks. Shocked, she grabbed the phone and ran back into the happy hour. "It was absolutely terrifying to have a near stranger’s hands on my body," Angie says. "He had lured me into an isolated space. I was overtaken by fear since I had no idea what was going to happen next. When I ran away I didn’t know if he was going to follow me."
In emails to the publication Pinto admits to the details of the evening. He even admits to using the phone as a lure to get her away from other party goers. Pinto asserts that Angie was laughing and chatting with him, and that she was flirting with him. According to pinto
"I got nervous on how to respond to her flirting signals and I grab her behinds."
Angie however was not flirting. Laughing and chatting are what social events are for and even if she was flirting, why did he not ask for her phone number or ask her on a date instead?According to other female scientists who know him Pinto is very socially awkward and creepy. A former student even went so far as to say
" he had a reputation as a man you didn't want to be cornered by at a party."

The very next day Angie went to her adviser at the Smithsonian and reported the allegations against Pinto. Both Angie and the Adviser thought that their report to the EEO specialist Shandella Davis would constitute an official report. It did not. The Smithsonian follows federal guidelines for sexual assault reporting and Angie was supposed to have been referred to a specific SI office within 45 days to report her assault officially. Angie and her adviser were not aware of this stipulation and no one including the EEO officer Shandella Davis informed them of this. The lack of an official report would cause many problems for Angie in the upcoming months.

Over the next few months Angie met with several administrators and to her dismay the administrators ganged up on her. She met with Sangray, Cones and other administrators including Eric Woodward former Hillary Clinton aide. She was repeatedly told it was a misunderstanding. Angie recalls that Woodward even cited his association with Clinton as proof he was pro woman while repeating Pintos excuse that it was all a misunderstanding. She was then referred to Chandra Heilman, The Smithsonian ombudsman. Heilman told Angie repeatedly that Miguel Pinto is a great scientist and that this was his only incident of misconduct.

According to The Verge
"The administrators eventually realized they had to do something. In a lengthy email dated August 13th, 2014, Sangrey laid out a series of restrictions that could be put on Pinto’s movements in the museum, including specifying certain exits and entrances that he would use. But she also cautioned Angie to "avoid the areas where you would most likely find Miguel." Sangrey told Angie to "give us a heads up" if she wanted to attend an event where Pinto might be present. And on January 5th, 2015, after Angie told Sangrey that she would be in the museum for most of the following March, Sangrey emailed her that security would be alerted, "so you’re covered."

However on March 8 just before Angie was supposed to return to the Smithsonian Helgen sent an email to the administrators involved stressing the incident of sexual assault as "poor judgement and a mortifying misunderstanding" Helgen also included that he does not believe Miguel would act inappropriately again and that he had advised pinto to stay away from Angie however according to Tracey Cones the administration cannot restrict what events people could and could not attend at the Smithsonian.

On March 13, Angie attended another social gathering thrown by the institute and suddenly found Miguel standing right behind her. Angie reported the incident and Pinto was made to meet with Helgen. In this meeting he was reminded to adhere to professional behavior and was given a copy of the SI's harassment guidelines. This wasn't the end of the Smithsonian Institutes leniency for Pinto. According to reports from the verge
"The following June, when NMNH administrators realized that she would soon be returning, there was another flurry of emails. Brian Huber — then the chair of the paleobiology department, where the happy hours were held — wrote to Angie on June 8th, assuring her that "Miguel will be told he cannot set foot in Paleo again and that this issue will not just go away."
But by June 19th, Huber had apparently changed his mind. In an email addressed to Angie’s adviser and copied to Sangrey, Cones, and Helgen, he wrote: "Your statement assumes that Miguel Pinto is a sexual predator, but we don’t really know what happened. The fact that [Angie] did not file a report with the security office or police and did not claim that a ‘sexual assault’ occurred until long after their encounter is problematic." Huber added that "we need to be careful that we do not go too far and violate Miguel Pinto’s rights while at the same time [helping Angie] feel that she should not feel threatened when she is here."
Angie reported all these incidents to the Smithsonian's office of the inspector general who found no violations of Smithsonian policies had occurred.


  1. If the Smithsonian encourages a rape culture, i will not longer be a member.

  2. Over the years I have frequently been advised to 'get real' about such incidences. I have campaigned vigorously to change the way men feel that can behave with women. The excuse is ofter on the lines that the behaviour was just a joke, or just teasing. I am in my seventies now and had hoped that some progress had been make - but it seems barely to have changed. It is always the perception of the woman that is questioned. It does not matter how famous a scientist is. If he cannot be trusted to keep his hand off female (or male, come to think of it) colleagues, then he should be censured. People should not be obliged to feel uncomfortable at work simply to satisfy the whims of senior colleagues.


  3. Wow, the issue is so simple, yet Smithsonian has bungled it. Even "great scientists" are not allowed to grab a woman. And he even admitted to luring her into a secluded area. What is Smithsonian waiting for? For Pinto to rape somebody? Or are they going to cover it up too? Terribly disappointed with Smithsonian handling this issue.

  4. Brook Turner raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, but was given a lenient sentence because "he is a great swimmer". A team of NFL players gang-raped Brenda Tracy, but were not prosecuted and were not dismissed from the football because "they were great athletes". XX XX raped a 14-year old high school student, but faced no jail time and no dismissal from his job because "he is a great teacher". Bill Cosby drugged and assaulted over 60 women, but has maintained his innocence because "he is great actor". And Miguel Pinto sexually assaulted a young woman, but no action has been taken because "he is a great scientist"... When is our judicial system get the point that being "great at something" comes secondary, and being great citizen of the equal society comes first?

    1. Thank you for sharing your point! I have experienced this many times. If and when people are judged by their ability to treat others respectfully and with consideration, then we will be doing something great.

  5. Maria, what can we do?

    I've emailed Linda St. Thomas
    Linda St.Thomas, Chief Spokesperson, Smithsonian Institution

    Is there a demonstration scheduled?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. The Smithsonian has long been considered one of the greatest institutions in America. Yet, culture can and must be changed if it is to remain such. I have filed suit (and won) with the ACLU for less. Get it together Smithsonian and if not, please know there are avenues for justice and FORCED culture change that will come. Stand up and shout no! There are little boys and girls watching to see how you react and how they should act.

  8. As a man I'm shocked, having always thought the Smithsonian was one of the most Professional Institution on the Planet, surprise & shock doesn't come close to my reaction, professional individuals Lying, Covering up & Protecting a man that has already Admitted his actions & Guilt, the actions of a Sexual Predator, to make matters worse individuals in a position of power with the ability to protect the Innocent Victim, try to blame the situation on the Victim. To the powers that be at the Smithsonian you are no better than this man, he should have been sacked straight away, then Charged & Arrested, But now because he's an important Scientist, the individuals whom should be protecting the Victim, have at every opportunity protected this man. As a man I'm shocked that the Smithsonian has not done everything in its power to protect this Victim of a Sexual Assault, you have protected a man who by his own omission committed a Sexual Assault. These actions are not the actions of a world renown organisation, Smithsonian I'm disgusted with your actions in this situation, you have brushed this situation under the carpet because of the man's Academic worth.