As a student at Princeton University, the son of California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman—one of the school's most celebrated donors—was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate. This is the story of the explosive accusation and its quiet aftermath.
Griffith Rutherford Harsh V was never arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the incident. Princeton dealt with it quietly and internally, ultimately allowing Harsh to continue his education. He graduated with the class of 2009, three years after his rape accusation—and two years after the inauguration of Whitman College, the residential living complex his billionaire mother donated $30 million to help build. The donation was announced in 2002, the year before Griff matriculated.
On a spring night in 2006, Griff—then a sophomore—went partying on the Street, a boozy row of private undergraduate dining clubs. As he would later tell a panel of university disciplinarians, he ran into a classmate and went home with her. They had sex. She awoke the next morning with a black eye, bruised face and, she told friends, no memories from the previous night. According to multiple sources—one of whom was a dormitory adviser at the time—the girl told her friends Griff Harsh had raped her.
A friend who spent time with her the following morning spoke to us under the condition of anonymity: "She woke up with him on top of her, and he was like, 'You need the morning-after pill.' And she was like, 'Why, what happened?' She didn't remember having sex, she didn't remember consenting, she didn't remember any of it.
"She had clearly hurt herself badly. Or been hurt badly."
The girl consulted her friends, some of whom worried about the "social repercussions" of accusing such a high-profile student of rape. She was "terrified," according to her friend. "She didn't want to press charges because it's Meg Whitman's son. She didn't want to go through that. She didn't go to the police. She didn't get a rape kit."
But she did go to the campus health clinic the day after the alleged assault. Shortly thereafter, Princeton launched an internal investigation.
In his statement, Griff notes "two sexual encounters prior" to the night in question as evidence that he thought the encounter was consensual. The friend we spoke to didn't know about the previous encounters, but noted, "How somebody would think it was OK to sleep with this girl, who is bleeding from her face, is beyond me."
We are told the disciplinary panel, which treats its matters as confidential, concluded that it did not have enough evidence to discipline Griff Harsh. He and his classmate went back to Princeton the next year. Both eventually graduated, though Griff required a fifth year to complete his studies after taking a year-long leave of absence.
We called Griff, who refused to comment on the case and hung up the phone. Meg Whitman's campaign didn't respond to several messages, and a spokesperson for Princeton University, Emily R. Aronson, said she was unable to comment about this specific case due to federal confidentiality laws, but offered a statement about the school's official policy in such cases:
The University informs the reporting student of his or her right to pursue separate criminal action, and provides the reporting student with information enabling him or her to do so. Each case is individual, and we recognize that the decision of veporting a sexual assault is ultimately the student's. The priority is to make sure students know what resources are available to help them, and that they make the decision that is right for them.
We also contacted the woman who accused Griff of rape. She did not respond to our inquiries.
"I think what happened is wrong," said the friend who tended to the victim the morning after. "I think the university handled it wrong. I would never fault [redacted] because I understand—to press charges against a billionaire son is daunting. She just wants to forget that it happened and move on with her life, and if he wants to say they slept together before, he gets to."
The rape accusation wasn't Griff's first brush with trouble, nor was it his last. One year before that fateful night in 2006, a 20-year-old Griff was arrested in Princeton for buying alcohol with a fake I.D. He pleaded guilty to underage alcohol possession. Charges of lying about his age to buy alcohol and possessing a "false government document" were dismissed. Here are the relevant complaints:
Griff's legal troubles continued even after the rape accusation. Shortly after the Princeton rape incident, Griff was back home in California when he was arrested for breaking a woman's ankle during a brawl at a bar. He was released after his mother posted $25,000 in bail and the charges were eventually dismissed.
A political newcomer, Meg Whitman credits her late political awakening (she didn't register to vote until seven years ago) to her busy schedule: She was "focused on raising a family." And yet her two adult sons have been absent from her campaign, perhaps because both boys have faced their share of scandals. (Most recently, Griff's younger brother Will got into an altercation with a Princeton professor.)
Since Meg lacks a political track record, many have looked to her tenure as CEO of Ebay to understand how she handles power. (Not always nonviolently, it seems: an eBay employee once accused Whitman of shoving her in a meeting.) The decision by Princeton officials to permit the son of one of its most prominent donors to remain in school following such serious allegations may raise questions about her influence at Princeton University, too.
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