Scholar Who Left a Tenured Post for Love Is Accused of Sexual Abuse

September 14, 2011

Robert W. Drago, a prominent scholar of issues affecting women in the work force, was arrested Monday in Washington, D.C., the police said. He was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse and misdemeanor sexual abuse of a minor.

Mr. Drago, a longtime professor of women's studies and labor studies at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, left that job last year to become research director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, in Washington. Heidi Hartmann, president of the institute, said Mr. Drago telephoned her Tuesday to resign from his post. She had already put Mr. Drago on paid leave, she said, as soon as she had learned of the complaints against him.

Mr. Drago would not respond to questions about the charges. But his lawyer, Barry Coburn, confirmed the charges against Mr. Drago and said in an e-mail message that "Dr. Drago is innocent unless and until he is proven guilty."

The charges relate to complaints that Mr. Drago's then-girlfriend, Laurie A. Bonjo, and her 17-year-old daughter filed in late July with the Washington police following an alleged encounter that month between Mr. Drago and the girl. According to Ms. Bonjo—who said her daughter did not want to be named in an article—her daughter stayed overnight alone with Mr. Drago at his apartment in Washington during some travel between family members' homes. While her daughter was at Mr. Drago's apartment, said Ms. Bonjo, Mr. Drago put his arms around her daughter, kissed her on the lips, and attempted to fondle her breasts and buttocks.

He later acknowledged making the advances in text messages he sent to Ms. Bonjo's cell phone, she said.

Last year The Chronicle wrote about Mr. Drago and Ms. Bonjo when he gave up his tenured professorship at Penn State so he could move to Washington to be closer to Ms. Bonjo, who is a graduate student in counseling education at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Va.

Mr. Drago said then that he considered himself a "feminist" and acknowledged that while many women give up their jobs for their male partners, the opposite is uncommon. Mr. Drago's research has included topics like the promotion of workplace breast-feeding, paid family leave, and flexible work arrangements.

Mary Ann Mason, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Law who does similar research, said she didn't believe the charges against Mr. Drago would stop him from doing work in the field. "He has been a very effective scholar and could continue to be so," she said.

Each of the misdemeanor charges carries a penalty upon conviction of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.