Himpathy, Ayala, and Sexual Assault Allegations

Last November, four women in the UCI community came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist and one of UCI’s most prominent benefactors. The allegations were finally substantiated by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, whose investigation included interviews of more than 60 people from November 2017 to May 2018. Ayala eventually resigned and released the following statement:

“I deeply regret that what I have always thought of as the good manners of a European gentleman—to greet women colleagues warmly, with a kiss to both cheeks, to compliment them on their beauty—made colleagues I respect uncomfortable. It was never my intent to do so. Nor do I wish to put them, my family, or this institution through the lengthy process of further investigation, hearings, appeals, and lawsuits. I have too much respect for them, and too much work still to do. I will continue my research with renewed vigor, and I thank my colleagues around the world for their support.”

In response, a letter to the editor of Science magazine was published in support of Ayala. Ayala’s supporters include UCI faculty and former alumni, who claim that the university’s investigation wasn’t thorough enough. The term “himpathy,” meaning sympathy towards men accused of sexual misconduct, has recently been attributed to the letter and its participants.

At its root, “himpathy” seems like a cheap attempt by convinced journalists at demeaning demands for adequate and thorough sexual assault investigation. The primary concern of the public should be for more information and truth, not insult and premature judgment. Both sides should understand their relative ignorance regarding any judicially-unsubstantiated allegation. Frankly, it seems irresponsible to attach opinion to subjects that should be handled by a court. This isn’t to deny that public interest can have a positive effect on the outcome of a case. But public scrutiny does best when it’s limited to ensuring that the mechanics of the judicial system are balanced and due.

Clearly, public awareness of sexualt assault allegations is at least useful in establishing an accountable judicial system, and my argument is not against an informed public. For example, Ayala’s misconduct was not particularly violent according to UCI’s investigation, and Ayala was a prominent member of the community. Several buildings and scholarships are named after him, and UC Irvine has benefited from millions of dollars of his donations. Ayala’s accusers were at a definite social and monetary disadvantage in this situation. Arguably, the allegations against Ayala might have been dismissed by the university’s investigative committee if it weren’t for the recent popularity of the #MeToo movement, which highlights the usefulness of public scrutiny in allowing accusers to gain credibility and assurance that their claims will be taken seriously.

However, media spectacles are deleterious when they infringe on the character and integrity of both the accused and the accuser. As more victims are encouraged to speak out, the frequency of sexual assault allegations can be expected to increase, and the role of courts in determining the truth of sexual assault allegations must be emphasized.

Henry Pineda is a fourth year English major. He can be reached at hrpineda@uci.edu.