Editor’s Note: This story contains details of sex abuse. If you or someone you know has experienced domestic or sexual abuse, contact The Advocacy Center here. 

ITHACA, N.Y. — A Tompkins County Legislator candidate has been accused of raping a woman while they were a student at Cornell University and sexually assaulting or manipulating at least two other women in regards to sex.

Cornell alumna Allie Riggs said she had been dating Jesse Reed Steberger in 2010 and was seeing them socially at the time of the incident, which occurred at Riggs’ place of residence, Triphammer Cooperative, on Slope Day, May 7.

“That day — I think that I don’t have a lot of clear memories of that day,” Riggs said, but she remembers what happened during the incident.

She said the two of them were having a consensual sexual interaction, and they forced them-self on her in an unwanted way. Steberger prefers the they/them pronoun.

“It was definitely forced,” she said.

Afterward, she said her roommate Miwa Oseki Robbins later took her to Cayuga Medical Center where a rape kit was administered.

Riggs reported the incident to the Cornell University Police Department and the case was handed to the Office of Judicial Administrator, where she worked with former JA Mary Beth Grant to pursue action against Steberger.

Riggs said that over the next few weeks and months, a slew of people called her clarity of the events into question.

“The process was so bureaucratic,” she said, adding that she began feeling like she “couldn’t live a normal student life” while going through the process of seeking justice.

Riggs said that an agreement was eventually made where Steberger was forbidden to be in on-campus housing and forbidden from contacting her.

Riggs lives downstate now and found out Steberger was running for public office through mutual friends.

“It definitely re-victimizes me,” she said, to think that Steberger could have been elected.

Another woman, who declined to be named, said she was in a relationship with Steberger after the incident involving Riggs.

She said that at first, she did not believe the rumors. But over time, she began to be coerced by Steberger to have group sex. She said she cried to Reed multiple times about not wanting to engage in group sex and Steberger would become angry or dismissive toward her.

She said the people who came to the parties did not attend with the expectation that they would have group sex, and that Steberger often plied them with alcohol before making sexual advances.

In one instance, she recalled a freshman girl who was nearly unconscious while Steberger performed oral sex on her. She said she feels torn about the incidents because she was not able to confront Steberger about the incidents.

Dropping out of the race

During a scheduled debate between Steberger and incumbent Rich John Thursday night, Steberger formally withdrew their candidacy for legislator. They also corroborated Riggs’ story.

“Partly because of the alcohol I consumed and partly because I did not understand what consent was, I did not recognize when our sex became non-consensual. Regardless of my intentions, I caused harm with my actions,” they said.

They confirmed that they went through an OJA investigation and took “formal institutional accountability” for the incident.

Steberger said the event changed the concept of consent which Steberger understand now to be an active yes.

“I’m sorry for hurting people who are close to me and who trusted me,” they said. “I am making the decision to withdraw because I want to take what action I can to show that I’m taking this issue seriously.”

Upon hearing the news Riggs said, “I think that what we were trying to do here is make sure that people in all respects are held accountable.”

She said Steberger’s hypocrisy to publicly speak about consent and respect needed to be publicly known.

“When a person in power has that kind of past, it’s very damaging for survivors and women,” she said. “I think what we’re doing goes beyond just this election.”

She said people need to know “…that we (survivors) have stories, that they’re important, and that we will not be erased.”