by Steve Horn
Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General May 8, had a record of supporting legislation and criminal law enforcement to protect women from sexual abuse. However, allegations surfaced that he did not practice what he preached.
A former state senator prior to his election as attorney general in 2010, Schneiderman’s rising-star political career came crashing down after The New Yorker magazine revealed a pattern of both physical and emotional abuse toward at least four romantic partners in New York City.
Schneiderman, who resigned just hours after the article went public, might potentially face criminal charges and is under investigation by a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
In a conversation with The New Yorker, one of his accusers revealed that Schneiderman told her, “I am the law.”
In contrast to his personal behavior, Schneiderman’s work showed a history of advocacy on women’s issues and law enforcement.
Strangulation Prevention Act
As a state senator in 2010, for example, Schneiderman introduced and sponsored the Strangulation Prevention Act (S.6987), which became law. But two women told The New Yorker that, in fact, Schneiderman had physically abused them by slapping and choking them.
“They did not report their allegations to the police at the time, but both say that they eventually sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and also choked,” reported The New Yorker.
Some have posited that Schneiderman could be prosecuted under the legislation, given his acts toward the women. The bill mandates an “increase [in the level of criminal] penalties for conduct involving the intentional impeding or impairing of another person’s breathing or circulation.”
Schneiderman, in a press release about the legislation in March 2010, spoke about the bill’s importance. “The time to criminalize this horrific form of abuse is now,” he said. “I am proud of the overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation. It sends a strong message that we must do everything in our power to ensure that no one is immune from accountability for committing such a heinous crime.”
Whether Schneiderman fits under the tent of “no one is immune” will likely play out in the courts and the criminal justice arena in the months and perhaps years ahead.
#MeToo, Know Your Rights
As of late, Schneiderman was most prominently in the news for legal actions he took against Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood movie mogul now accused of sexually assaulting a wide array of women in show business over multiple decades.
Schneiderman, seen as a hero by many in the #MeToo movement prior to The New Yorker story, brought a civil rights lawsuit against The Weinstein Company in February in the Supreme Court of New York.
“As alleged in our complaint, The Weinstein Company repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation, and discrimination,” Schneiderman laid out in a press release about the lawsuit. “Every New Yorker has a right to a workplace free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and fear.”
As recently as April 16, Schneiderman tweeted a congratulations to The New Yorker and The New York Times for their reporting on Weinstein and the broader #MeToo accusations, which arose after the publishing of the first stories about Weinstein.
Back in 2016, Schneiderman’s office published a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet for victims of sexual violence, which seemingly could be of use for his accusers.
“Upstate and downstate, in cities, suburbs and rural communities, domestic violence is a state-wide crisis,” reads the pamphlet in a statement provided by the then-attorney general. “Victims of domestic violence often face difficulties in seeking or maintaining housing and employment due to the violence in their lives. Fortunately, New York State laws protect the rights of victims of domestic violence so they can continue to house and care for their families without facing discrimination.”
Violence Against Women Act
On the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, Schneiderman spoke in support of the federal legislation and explained the rationale behind it.
“Basic safety is not a privilege: It is a fundamental right. Protecting all Americans from harm, regardless of their relationship to their abuser or their gender, is and will remain one of the most important aspects of our ongoing pursuit of equal justice under law.” Schnederman said in a press release commemorating the bill.
Schneiderman also previously lauded the bill in a 2012 letter he co-signed to members of Congress along with the other state attorneys general, calling for the bill to be reauthorized.
“[W]e think it is critical that Congress reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act,” the letter reads. “We know a great deal more about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking than we did 17 years ago. Reauthorizing VAWA will allow us to build on those lessons and continue to make progress and save lives.”
If Scheinerman faces federal charges, it’s possible that bill, too, could be used to prosecute him.
“Moralistic Public Face”
Beyond support for the #MeToo movement and legislation penalizing physical battery committed against women, Schneiderman also attempted to ban sex offenders from playing online video games in a program called “Operation: Game Over.”
“We must ensure online video game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators,” Schneiderman said in a 2012 press release about “Game Over.” “That means doing everything possible to block sex offenders from using gaming networks as a vehicle to prey on underage victims.”
In responding to accusations aired against him in The New Yorker, Schneiderman did not deny he did the deeds, but argued that it was simply “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” which took place within the confines of the “privacy of intimate relationships.”
In response, criminal defense attorney Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma rebutted the argument. “Schneiderman seems to be accused of using his blameless, even moralistic, public face as a shield for brutal conduct that is criminal and destructive by any measure,” Margulis-Ohnuma wrote in a May 9 blog post.
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