The rape accusations against Silicon Valley VC Joe Lonsdale are horrifying

Shane Ferro
joe lonsdale

TechCrunch, Flickr

Joe Lonsdale

The claims against Palantir co-founder and popular Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale will make your stomach turn.

In late January, a recent Stanford grad, Elise Clougherty, filed a lawsuit accusing Lonsdale of “a sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive relationship.” Lonsdale, who is also a founder of the VC firm Formation8, has since filed a countersuit claiming their relationship was consensual. 

The basic facts, which are in both the suit and countersuit, are the following: Lonsdale and Clougherty first met through a mutual friend in New York when she was a Stanford student. About a year later, Lonsdale served as an official mentor for Clougherty in a Stanford tech entrepreneurship program. The two entered into a relationship, which lasted for about a year between 2012 and 2013. 

Clougherty claims in her suit that Lonsdale hand-picked her to be his mentee, deliberately started a relationship with her, and over the course of the year became increasingly abusive. 

She’s asking for $75,000 in damages. 

Here are some of the details of alleged abuse from the complaint via TechCrunch (Editor’s warning: the following excerpts contain graphic descriptions of sex and sexual abuse): 

  • “Shortly after arriving at his house, he started to kiss her aggressively and to try to take off her pants. Despite Ms. Clougherty trying to avoid him and pushing his hands away from her crotch at least a half dozen times, Mr. Lonsdale persisted. Mr. Lonsdale then pulled Ms. Clougherty into a bedroom where he took off her clothes and his pants, and began to penetrate her with his flaccid penis. During this episode, Mr. Lonsdale acted as though he were not doing anything wrong and made comments insinuating that Ms. Clougherty had wanted the sexual contact.”
  • “In the following weeks, Mr. Lonsdale repeatedly continued to force Ms. Clougherty to have sexual contact with him without her consent. From very early on, Mr. Lonsdale repeatedly told Ms. Clougherty that it was women’s nature to enjoy being raped, especially if they are raped by a man with greater means.
  • “In London, Mr. Lonsdale continued to force her to have sexual contact with him without her consent. Throughout the trip, Mr. Lonsdale deprived her of both food and sleep by scheduling late night and early morning activities, delaying meals, not ordering her enough food, and other such tactics.”
  • “In their hotel room [in Rome], Mr. Lonsdale penetrated her with several fingers, and then abruptly started penetrating her with his erect penis. She immediately pulled away from him. He then grabbed her and penetrated her again. She immediately pulled away a second time and ran.”
  • “On countless occasions during this period, Ms. Clougherty told Mr. Lonsdale that she did not want to have sex and asked him not to penetrate her. Mr. Lonsdale dismissed her  protests and continued to coerce her to engage in sex with him. Throughout this period, Mr. Lonsdale repeatedly commented to Ms. Clougherty that women needed to be raped to learn to be loyal and that they really enjoyed being raped more than they let on.
  • “During intercourse, he would regularly shake Ms. Clougherty violently and would not stop, despite her protests, until she promised she would always ‘listen to her master.’ In addition to shaking her violently during sexual assaults, he also began strangling her, slapping her, scratching her, yanking her by the hair so hard that he would lift her torso off the bed, and slamming her body against the walls and bedboards.
  • “Mr. Lonsdale typically forced Ms. Clougherty to have sex several times a day — on some occasions, as many as ten or more times a day. When Ms. Clougherty was on her period, Mr. Lonsdale’s attacks were especially frequent. He often would not let her buy tampons and seemed to relish getting her blood everywhere — on her clothing, bed sheets, hotel furniture, car and bus seats, and elsewhere. He would not let her clean up the blood, and would get very angry with her if she tried to clean it up. On one occasion, in a hotel room, he even picked up her naked body and made her sit on the hotel furniture so as to smear her blood all over it.”

In addition, Stanford conducted its own independent investigation of Lonsdale’s relationship with Clougherty and concluded, according to Clougherty’s lawsuit, that “more likely than not that [Ms. Clougherty] expressed to [Mr. Lonsdale] that she did not want to engage in the sexual conduct in question, but that [Mr. Lonsdale] did not comply with [her] request.” Lonsdale was subsequently banned from Stanford’s campus for 10 years.

Lonsdale denies that any of this happened. His countersuit claims he never had an influence over her grade in her technology entrepreneurship class, and when they entered into a relationship it was completely consensual. He produces quotes from numerous emails in order to back up his points. He is asking for $150,000 total in damages, plus punative damages and the costs of the lawsuit. 

From his countersuit

In late March, Mr. Lonsdale and Ms. Clougherty finally travelled in Europe together, and, in Rome, they had sex for the first time. Mr. Lonsdale and Ms. Clougherty’s sexual relationship, both in Rome and at all times thereafter, was always consensual. Ms. Clougherty never expressed to Mr. Lonsdale during their relationship that she believed that any sexual acts were non-consensual… To the contrary, she regularly expressed her love and affection for Mr. Lonsdale and the happiness she experienced dating him.

In addition to the countersuit, Lonsdale put up a website defending his side of the story. He writes: 

Throughout the course of our relationship, she regularly expressed her love and affection for me— which I reciprocated.  There are hundreds of emails from her telling me how much she loved me, how happy she was, and how excited she was about our future.  She said that I was “like the boyfriend every girl dreams about but doesn’t think actually exists.”  On another occasion, she wrote in a handwritten card,   “I want to learn more about you too to love you deeper in return for the way you love me. You are a really special man.”  These and other effusively loving emails exist from throughout the entirety of our relationship, including some from immediately after we broke up.

He includes links to many email exchanges between the two, although most of Lonsdale’s responses are blacked out.

Last week, Formation 8 provided this statement to Business Insider: 

These allegations are inconsistent with the partner we have come to know over the past few years. Moreover, we have very clear employment procedures at Formation 8, and Ms. Clougherty was never an employee of Formation 8. This is obviously a highly personal situation for Joe, and we have agreed to allow him whatever time he needs to address this matter. Formation 8 intends to promptly seek to dismiss these baseless claims against the firm.

Clougherty’s lawyers sent us this statement: 

Ms. Clougherty expected Mr. Lonsdale and his attorney to release a self-serving PR campaign of denial. She will certainly give Mr. Lonsdale a full opportunity to explain his conduct in this litigation and looks forward to hearing Mr. Lonsdale’s statements when he is under oath and subject to cross-examination.” Ms. Clougherty knows the truth and is confident that her lawsuit will reveal it to the public.

Lonsdale’s spokesperson did not provide Business Insider with a comment on the record.

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