Two men who accuse a former high-ranking state university administrator in northeastern Pennsylvania of molesting them when they were students described for a jury this week how they had looked to him as a mentor but instead endured a “nightmare” of abuse and humiliation.
The men, now 26 and 33, testified at a federal civil rights trial stemming from a lawsuit they and a third former student filed against Isaac Sanders in 2009. They allege Sanders used his position as vice president of East Stroudsburg University in the Pocono Mountains to offer them scholarships, campus jobs and gifts but then sexually harassed and assaulted them.
The 33-year-old accuser, now a therapist pursuing his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, told the jury that Sanders drove him to a secluded area after a campus diversity event 10 years ago, grabbed him by the head and forced him to give Sanders oral sex as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” played on Sanders’ CD player.
“I felt totally helpless. I didn’t know what to do,” said the man, who testified that he’d endured severe childhood sexual abuse. “It took me back to when I was a kid.”
He said he returned home and contemplated suicide by drinking bleach. Instead, he rinsed his mouth with it and spit it out.
Sanders, who has never been charged with a crime, denies the accusers’ accounts. A senior prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office for the region attended the trial, but he declined to comment on why he was there.
The accuser, who now has an 8-year-old son, said Sanders abused him at other times, too, but he said he failed to report it for several years because “I didn’t have enough respect for myself at that time . I was very, very, very embarrassed.”
Another accuser told the jury he wishes he had never met Sanders.
Taking the witness stand a day after becoming too distraught to testify, the 26-year-old man, the first witness at the trial, described what he said happened to him in the spring and summer of 2007.
Sanders grabbed the teenager’s genitals and asked to give him oral sex while they were driving back from a restaurant, the accuser testified. Sanders also paid for a summer class without being asked and tried to give him underwear as a gift, he said.
“I didn’t want this to happen to me,” the man said. “I did not ask to be touched or groomed. I never gave any hints to Sanders that I was into him or into men at all.”
He said the groping left him “in a shock” and he told Sanders to stop it.
When Sanders dropped the accuser off at the home he shared with his girlfriend, he said, “Thanks for letting me invade your space,” the man testified.
Sanders’ attorney questioned the accuser about inconsistencies between his testimony and what he said in a deposition more than two years ago. Under cross-examination, the man also said that Sanders never explicitly threatened to take away a campus job or any other benefit if he refused the administrator’s advances.
But he insisted that what Sanders had done to him was “really messed up,” calling it a “nightmare that just won’t go away.”
The third accuser is also scheduled to testify. The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse.
A total of six men filed suit against Sanders, but three were dismissed from the case because the statute of limitations ran out on their claims.
Sanders was fired following an investigation commissioned by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the agency that oversees East Stroudsburg and 13 other state-owned schools.
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