This week, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman stepped down after an expose in the New Yorker detailed allegations by four women that he subjected them to physical violence during romantic relationships or encounters. The news came as a shock to many because Schneiderman had developed a reputation as a champion of women’s issues.
Schneiderman denies the allegations, but he resigned in acknowledgement that they would prevent him from effectively leading his office at what he calls a critical time. His office had been pressing to change state law to allow prosecution of Trump administration personnel if they are pardoned by the president. That effort now faces an uncertain future.
As we discussed on this blog at the time, Schneiderman has also filed a high-profile civil rights case against the Weinstein Co. on behalf of employees who work or worked in New York.
“To work for Harvey Weinstein was to work under a persistent barrage of gender-based obscenities, vulgar name-calling, sexualized interactions, threats of violence, and a workplace general hostile to women,” that lawsuit reads.
Schneiderman’s suit against the Weinstein Co. helped catapult him into the upper echelons of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
In addition, Schneiderman has made a name for himself in the fight against domestic violence. For the past several years, the attorney general’s office has published a brochure for victims of domestic violence called “Know Your Rights.” The National Organization for Women’s New York branch has lauded his “unmatched work” protecting domestic violence victims. Also, in 2010, as a state senator, Schneiderman introduced a bill to make intentional strangulation a violent felony.
Now, Schneiderman is accused of strangling at least one woman and the Manhattan district attorney has opened a criminal investigation into the four women’s allegations of abuse. Schneiderman has defended himself by claiming the events may have taken place in a role-playing context, but a lawyer for one of the women says that it was “fantasy and his fantasy alone that the behavior was welcome.”
This situation is illustrative of why some victims don’t come forward after experiencing sexual harassment or abuse. Although the allegations against Schneiderman don’t currently involve the workplace, some of the same dynamics are at play.
Victims of sexual harassment and violence often fear they won’t be believed. Or, even if they are believed, they may fear their complaints won’t be taken seriously.
As an attorney for one of the women said, “Apparently [Schneiderman] intends to revictimize these courageous women who have come forward by pulling out that age-old sexist trope that they wanted it.”
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