After the producer was accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of women, Schneiderman sued him and his company to get restitution for survivors. And last week, he announced an investigation of the Manhattan district attorney’s handling of allegations against Weinstein.
Now Schneiderman has resigned, after four women reported that he abused them. One told Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker that Schneiderman choked her and slapped her so hard in the ear that she could feel the effects months later. Another said the abuse got to the point that “we could rarely have sex without him beating me.”
Schneiderman told the New Yorker that he had never assaulted anyone or “engaged in nonconsensual sex.” “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office,” he said in a statement announcing his resignation, “they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”
Schneiderman, a Democrat, is not the first champion of women’s rights and progressive causes to be accused of sexual misconduct — that list includes former Sen. Al Franken, author Junot Díaz, and, of course, Bill Clinton. But the revelations about Schneiderman are especially painful because when they came to light, he was engaged in a very public fight to get justice for harassment and assault survivors. (Really?????)
Schneiderman was supposed to be one of the heroes of #MeToo — now his story has turned into the movement’s biggest betrayal.
Schneiderman isn’t alone
In the past few months, many men who publicly espouse feminist ideals have been accused of violating those ideals in private by harassing, assaulting, or abusing women. While in office, Franken wrote provisions of the Violence Against Women Act designed to ensure that survivors don’t have to pay for rape kits and to prevent housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A group of his former staffers called him “a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”
But eight women say they saw a different side of Franken, alleging that he groped, forcibly kissed, or tried to kiss them. He resigned from the Senate in January. “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently,” he said in his resignation speech in December.
Díaz, meanwhile, had established a “public persona as a writer who ‘gets’ women, sexism, and toxic masculinity,” as Vox’s Constance Grady noted. He had also been praised for an April essay in the New Yorker about the devastating impact of the rape he endured as a child.
But in May, writer Zinzi Clemmons reported that he had forcibly kissed her, and two other writers said he had berated them in ways they found misogynist or assaultive.
“I take responsibility for my past,” Díaz said in a statement in response to the allegations. “I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement.”
It’s not just men who have been accused of this kind of hypocrisy. California state Assembly member Cristina Garcia was one of the people honored as “silence breakers” by Time magazine in December for speaking out against sexual misconduct. Since then, she’s been accused of groping a male staffer and firing another who refused to play “Spin the Bottle” with her, the Washington Post reported. She has taken a leave of absence from the state legislature but has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct against her, calling them “part of a concerted effort to discredit my person and record as a legislator.”
President Clinton’s career was, in some ways, an early precursor to such stories — a supporter of abortion rights who signed the Family and Medical Leave Act and appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, he also had a sexual relationship with an intern and was accused of rape and other sexual misconduct by other women. He has denied those accusations.
In some ways, though, the gap between public persona and private allegations feels largest for Eric Schneiderman. He didn’t just set himself up as a supporter of women’s rights in general — he went after Harvey Weinstein, the man who is an avatar for the current reckoning around sexual harassment and assault.
The allegations against Schneiderman are especially chilling
Schneiderman’s suit against the Weinstein Company and Weinstein himself, filed in February, painted a detailed and disturbing picture not just of the allegations against the producer himself but of the ways other Weinstein Company employees allegedly covered for him and failed to act on reports of his behavior, allowing the abuse of women to continue unabated for years.
Along with pathbreaking coverage by the New York Times and the New Yorker, it stood as crucial documentation of the reports of women about their treatment at the hands of a powerful man, and the ways that treatment was enabled by those who helped him maintain his power.
The suit called for restitution to the survivors of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct; it was also designed to block any sale of the Weinstein Company that risked perpetuating past abuses.
“Any sale of The Weinstein Company must ensure that victims will be compensated, employees will be protected going forward, and that neither perpetrators nor enablers will be unjustly enriched,” Schneiderman said in a February statement. “Every New Yorker has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and fear.”
In the months that followed, Schneiderman’s office helped broker a deal between the Weinstein Company and an investors’ group for a sale that would include a victims’ compensation fund and oust an executive who allegedly failed to take appropriate action on complaints against Weinstein. That deal subsequently fell through, apparently because the Weinstein Company had failed to disclose outstanding debts. Still, Schneiderman emerged as a key advocate for survivors and for the reform of a workplace reportedly tainted by systemic flaws.
And his work appeared to continue. Last week, on the direction of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman’s office announced the appointment of a special deputy to investigate the Manhattan district attorney’s handling of 2015 sexual assault allegations against Weinstein.
Then on Monday, Mayer and Farrow reported that four women had accused Schneiderman of slapping, choking, or otherwise abusing them. One of them, Michelle Manning Barish, said she suffered problems with her ear for months after Schneiderman slapped her there; at one point, blood trickled down to her collarbone. She also said he threatened her, telling her after she made a reference to him on social media, “Don’t ever write about me. You don’t want to do that.”
“I am the law,” she said he once told her. “If there is a sentence that sums him up, it’s that.”
Schneiderman understood abuse of power. His suit against Weinstein is a clear and stinging indictment of it. He tweeted about it in April, writing that “without the reporting of the @nytimes and the @newyorker — and the brave women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they endured at the hands of powerful men — there would not be the critical national reckoning underway.”
At least according to Barish and the other women who have spoken out against him, Schneiderman used his understanding of the way power works not just to go after those who misused it but to abuse, intimidate, and threaten women in his own life. This makes the reports against him especially disturbing, even in a time when we’re becoming used to learning that people who seem like champions of women can also be abusers.
In public, Schneiderman seemed to strike at the very heart of the problems of sexual misconduct and violence against women. In private, according to women’s accounts, he was doing exactly what he fought against, hurting women and abusing his authority to keep them quiet about it.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office told Vox its work on the Weinstein lawsuit will continue. “Our office has never been stronger, and this extraordinarily talented, dedicated, and tireless team of public servants will ensure that our work continues without interruption,” said acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood in a statement on Tuesday.
As for Schneiderman himself, his legacy now seems not just tainted but reversed — once someone who fought against powerful men who think their position gives them the freedom to harm women, he’s now poised to go down in history as a chilling example of that phenomenon in action.