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Women's Groups Try To Fathom Former NY AG’s Seeming Hypocrisy

Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a press conference with women's group leaders on November 28, 2017
Karen DeWitt
Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a press conference with women's group leaders on November 28, 2017

Disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was known as a long time champion of women’s rights. That’s why leaders of women’s groups are still trying to make sense of the allegations that he was a serial domestic violence abuser.

Just six months ago, Judy Harris Kluger, who runs an anti-domestic violence agency, stood beside Schneiderman, where he announced an agreement with a Brooklyn hospital to longer bill sexual assault survivors for forensic rape examinations.

“In recent months we’ve begun a long overdue reckoning with our culture of violence and silence,” Schneiderman says in his remarks at the press conference on November 28, 2017. 

Schneiderman, a Democrat, resigned this week amid allegations that he physically abused several women that he dated. In a report in the New Yorker magazine, the women said the abuse included hitting, slapping and choking.

Harris Kluger, whose group Sanctuary for Families, provides services to victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, is still trying to fathom how the man she viewed as a champion for the rights of women could have such a sordid personal life.

“It is a stunning betrayal, it’s hypocrisy it’s, to say the least, disappointing,” Harris Kruger said. “And really not easy to comprehend in any way.”

Schneiderman has denied the allegations, saying he was involved in consensual role playing with the women.

Harris Kluger says what’s even more difficult to understand is that her group worked with Schneiderman when he was a state senator to craft a law to make strangulation a crime.

“He was involved in helping to get that legislation passed,” Harris Kluger. “So of course it’s pretty stunning to hear that he actually engaged in that conduct with the women he was involved with.”

The leader of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, Sonia Ossorio, was also at the press conference on November 28, 2017. 

Ossorio says she and her colleagues at the NOW offices are trying to come to terms with it all.

“Does it feel more like a betrayal because there just aren’t enough male leaders who champion women’s rights,” Ossorio says she wonders. “So we put everything into the small number of men who do.”

NOW has called for a special prosecutor and endorses Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to appoint the Nassau County District Attorney, Madeline Singas, to oversee an investigation into the charges.

Ossorio says it’s further prove that the “reckoning” of violence against women is not abating.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Ossorio said.

Harris Kluger, a former judge and prosecutor, says complications with pursuing a criminal case against Schneiderman, because of a statute of limitations for assault charges. But she says she takes solace in the fact that Schneiderman survived as Attorney General for less than three hours after the article was published, before he was forced to resign.

“Seeing his very swift fall will hopefully have a chilling effect on others who would engage in this,” she said.

Harris Kluger says the former AG “clearly had his demons” and she credits the women who survived the alleged abuse for taking the risk and speaking out.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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