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Women's groups try to fathom former AG’s seeming hypocrisy

NYS AG Office

Disgraced former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was known as a longtime 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 at a press conference where he announced an agreement with a Brooklyn hospital to no 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 said in his remarks at the Nov. 28 press conference.

Schneiderman 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 said 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 said. “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 Nov. 28 press conference.

Ossorio said 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 asked. “So we put everything into the small number of men who do?”

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

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

“It’s a perfect storm,” Ossorio said.

Harris Kluger, a former judge and prosecutor, said there are complications with pursuing a criminal case against Schneiderman because of a statute of limitations for assault charges. But she said 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 said the former attorney general “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 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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