Thursday 24 May 2018

New York AG and #MeToo lawyer resigns in wake of abuse claims

‘Engaged in role-playing’: Eric Schneiderman. Photo: AP
‘Engaged in role-playing’: Eric Schneiderman. Photo: AP

Deepti Hajela

The Manhattan district attorney's office is investigating allegations of physical violence against women by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who held himself out as a champion of women and a liberal foil to US President Donald Trump.

Mr Schneiderman resigned from office late on Monday, just hours after accounts of abuse by four women were published in 'The New Yorker'.

It was a swift and stunning fall for a Democrat who had pledged to use the power of his office to hold others accountable for abusing their power.

The women described being violently slapped and choked, verbally abused and threatened by Mr Schneiderman. Some also described him as a heavy drinker. The alleged abuse often happened during what were supposed to be romantic encounters, but the women said the violence was not consensual.

Mr Schneiderman (63) issued a statement implying that his conduct was either welcomed by the women, or was not as they described.

"In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone," he said.

But after fellow Democrats in New York called for his resignation, he capitulated quickly.

"In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me," he said.

"While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office's work at this critical time."

Two women who spoke to 'The New Yorker' on the record, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, both said the physical abuse escalated over time.

"After the most difficult month of my life - I spoke up. I could not remain silent and encourage other women to be brave for me," Ms Manning Barish wrote on Twitter after the story was published.

Ms Manning Barish said she was involved with Mr Schneiderman from mid-2013 until the end of 2014. Ms Selvaratnam said she was involved with him from the summer of 2016 until autumn 2017.

Ms Manning Barish said Mr Schneiderman became violent a few weeks after they began dating. She said she confided in friends.

Ms Selvaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, said Mr Schneiderman started calling her his "brown slave" and made her say that she was "his property".

"After I found out that other women had been abused by attorney-general Schneiderman in a similar manner many years before me, I wondered, who's next? and knew something needed to be done," Ms Selvaratnam said.

Mr Schneiderman has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. He filed a lawsuit in February against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr Schneiderman said the company broke New York law by failing to protect employees from "pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination".

He launched a civil rights probe into the company in October after 'The New York Times' and 'The New Yorker' exposed allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades. The company later sacked Weinstein.

Irish Independent

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