Independent investigation confirms sexual harassment allegations against Aubrey de Grey
A month after two former colleagues came forward with sexual harassment allegations against prominent anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey — taking place while one was a minor — an independent investigation has corroborated their complaints.
Celine Halioua and Laura Deming took to Twitter and their personal websites last month to accuse de Grey of engaging in predatory behavior while they were both students. Though Halioua and Deming were not named in the investigation, conducted by the law firm Van Dermyden Makus, Halioua confirmed to Endpoints News that she is one of the two complainants referenced in the 18-page report.
Deming has not yet responded to a request for comment made by Endpoints, but confirmed to STAT that she is the other complainant in the report.
De Grey, who was placed on administrative leave from his role as CSO of the SENS Research Foundation in June, has since been fired over concerns he was attempting to influence the investigation. The firm is “continuing to look into allegations brought forward by other women, though it would be premature to speculate on the outcomes of that effort,” according to SENS.
“The behavior detailed within this report is simply unacceptable,” SENS said in a statement. “On behalf of the SENS Research Foundation, we, the Foundation’s Directors, extend our heartfelt apologies to the individuals subjected to this behavior, as well as our gratitude for their bravery in coming forward.”
De Grey became an informal mentor to Deming when she was just 12 years old, shortly after she moved to the United States, according to the report. As an aspiring scientist, she emailed several prominent figures seeking advice for how to break into the field, and de Grey was among the recipients. They reconnected later when he interviewed her for a fellowship program, she told Endpoints last month.
When she was 17 years old, Deming says she received an email from de Grey’s work account, in which he was “obviously propositioning [her].”
The email, provided in the investigation, read:
You probably know (it’s public) that I have a fairly adventurous love life, and I’m not coy in talking about it, but I’ve always taken care to avoid letting conversations stray in that direction with someone so young as you, and I confess that that has always felt quite jarring given that I could treat you as an equal on every other level. Maybe those days are over…
In a social media post last month, de Grey confirmed sending the lewd email to Deming while she was 17, which he “unreservedly regret(s).” However, he has since denied having an improper motive.
Just days after she turned 18, de Grey sent another email to Deming, writing that he “resisted the temptation to include ‘hotter than hell’” in a reference letter to attend a forum. Deming told investigators she felt trapped, and as though he was “grooming” her.
As an intern, Halioua told Endpoints that there was “a sexual undercurrent in everything that SENS did.” She said de Grey made sexual comments to her at a dinner with SENS executives and donors while she was a SENS-funded student at Oxford University. De Grey “funneled me alcohol and hit on me the entire night,” and told her she had a “responsibility to have sex with the SENS donors in attendance so they would give money to him,” she said.
Witnesses confirmed that Halioua was seated next to de Grey at the dinner, but none heard him make the alleged comments. However, de Grey admitted to investigators that he made similar comments to a different woman years earlier, asserting that those in the industry must use “whatever means necessary to fight the war on aging.”
“It is at the same level of women in World War II sleeping with Nazis to get information,” de Grey told investigators. “It is a war against aging here. You have to persuade people to give money. That is honestly who I am. I am the general.”
After the report was released on Friday, de Grey posted on Facebook:
Now would seem to be the time to let you all peruse the report in detail and observe, and form your own opinions of the validity of, the methods that the investigator has considered appropriate to reach her conclusions on the “preponderance of the evidence”. My own focus is the actual evidence included in the report, which is moderately comprehensive but to which I will add a few items in due course – I’m still constrained by the fact that (as the report notes) a second report is still forthcoming.
He also apologized to Deming, stating that “I consider that that email would have been a mistake even if she had been five years older, because we were in a mentor-mentee relationship.”