As Dayna Solomon was leaving her house this morning, her young son stopped her to ask where she was going. He noticed that her outfit was more casual than her usual work attire, which piqued his curiosity. Solomon had to rack her brain to come up with an age-appropriate response. She was on her way to a press conference announcing the launch of Reform the Sex Crimes Unit (RSCU), a campaign to demand greater transparency and accountability within the Manhattan DA’s Sex Crimes Unit.
“I had to explain it to him in very simple terms, because he’s not even ten years old,” said Solomon. “I explained that my doctor behaved very badly, and that I’m going to go talk to people about this.”
The doctor in question was the gynecologist Robert Hadden, a notorious serial sexual abuser who victimized over a dozen women over the course of his career. Solomon was one of his many, many victims; even worse, Hadden delivered her son, and his name is on the birth certificate.
“I told him, ‘If you want, we can get [his name] removed’,” said Solomon. “And he said, ‘Of course I want his name removed. This is my birth certificate; it’s going to be with me my whole life. I don’t want a bad man’s name on my birth certificate.'”
Solomon, along with several other victims and victim advocates, gathered today for a press conference to share their stories and summarize RSCU’s agenda.
The conference took place in the middle of Foley Square, by the fountain. The conference saw appearances from several electeds and candidates; specifically, Assembly Members Yuh-Line Niou (D-Chinatown, Financial District) and Aravella Simotas (D-Queens), and Congressional Candidate Erica Vladimer.
The conference came on the heels of a recent New York Times exposé about Robert Hadden and his crimes. In 2016, he struck a plea deal with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance (D) that allowed him to avoid jail time. Since the verdict, 29 former patients, lead by Marissa Hoechstetter, have filed a lawsuit in state court against Mr. Hadden.
“For ten years, Cy Vance has favored the wealthy and connected over justice for victims of sexual assault,” said Hoechstetter. “He’s used his discretionary power, his forfeiture funds and his social networks to further his own interests. We seek to reclaim the DA’s office for the people of New York.”
Erica Vladimer, a sexual abuse survivor herself, felt a deep kinship with the other activists. Last year, Vladimer publicly accused former Senator Jeffrey D. Klein (D) of forcibly kissing her while she was working as a New York state legislative staffer. Later that year, she began a statewide campaign to strengthen New York’s sexual harassment laws, and co-founded the Sexual Harassment Working Group with six other former staffers.
Vladimer said that she and her fellow survivors can only achieve justice when they receive “a seat at the table” in regards to the prosecution of sex crimes. This is precisely what the RSCU hopes to accomplish.
“We shouldn’t have to call for transparency and accountability,” said Vladimer. “But on every level of government, we see that we are being betrayed. Congressional leaders feel that they have no role to play in holding the rapist in the White House accountable. The District Attorney’s office in Manhattan uses excuses at the expense of victims just so they can cut a plea deal, and say that they ‘won’. A ‘win’ does not include forgetting victims! A ‘win’ does not exclude our voices!”
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said she was “stunned”, by both the survivors’ stories and the arguments that the Vance Administration used to discredit them. Karen Friedman Agnifilo, Vance’s chief assistant, argued that the women who were pregnant at the time of their abuse could not clearly see what Dr. Hadden was doing to them, since their views were obstructed.
“When something like this happens to you, you don’t not know, and you don’t forget,” said Niou. “And it’s not something that doesn’t affect you. I feel like there are so many things that need to be changed right now. This system was designed to help a certain few and hurt everyone else. And right now, we are seeing that in effect.”
Anthony DiPietro, the lawyer representing the 29 women in their case against Hadden, also received the chance to weigh in on the matter. By his account, the women he’s representing are just the tip of the iceberg. DiPietro called Vance’s plea deal with Hadden and his dismissal of his numerous victims “one of the biggest scandals in New York City politics of our time”.
“The DA’s office has records of approximately a dozen more women who went to the DA to report [Hadden’s] abuse,” said DiPietro. “I don’t even know who those additional women are. So despite the range of abuse that Robert Hadden committed – which I believe fits the legal definition of rape – Cyrus Vance and his office have traded the abuse of these women for political favors that Vance owes to a group of criminal defense lawyers who financially back him and his political campaigns.”
Marissa Hoechstetter concluded the conference by pledging to continue her advocacy during the 2021 Manhattan District Attorney race.
“We have an opportunity to elect a prosecutor with experience, intellect and a commitment to justice for all of us,” said Hoechstetter. “Over the coming months, RSCU will share our full agenda for the race. We will host public events so that we can continue this conversation. We want to work with people, to learn with people, and to have this conversation publicly. It matters to be public. We look forward to partnering with the candidates in the race, to realize an accountable sex crimes unit.”