From The New Yorker: Four Women Accuse New York’s Attorney General of Physical Abuse
Update: Three hours after the publication of this story, Schneiderman resigned from his position. “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,” he said in a statement. “I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8, 2018.”
Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, has long been a liberal Democratic champion of women’s rights, and recently he has become an outspoken figure in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. As New York State’s highest-ranking law-enforcement officer, Schneiderman, who is sixty-three, has used his authority to take legal action against the disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and to demand greater compensation for the victims of Weinstein’s alleged sexual crimes. Last month, when the Times and this magazine were awarded a joint Pulitzer Prize for coverage of sexual harassment, Schneiderman issued a congratulatory tweet, praising “the brave women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.” Without these women, he noted, “there would not be the critical national reckoning under way.”
Now Schneiderman is facing a reckoning of his own. As his prominence as a voice against sexual misconduct has risen, so, too, has the distress of four women with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters. They accuse Schneiderman of having subjected them to nonconsensual physical violence. All have been reluctant to speak out, fearing reprisal. But two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, have talked to The New Yorker on the record, because they feel that doing so could protect other women. They allege that he repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent. Manning Barish and Selvaratnam categorize the abuse he inflicted on them as “assault.” 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. Selvaratnam says that Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped, and both say that he threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. (Schneiderman’s spokesperson said that he “never made any of these threats.”)
A third former romantic partner of Schneiderman’s told Manning Barish and Selvaratnam that he also repeatedly subjected her to nonconsensual physical violence, but she told them that she is too frightened of him to come forward. (The New Yorker has independently vetted the accounts that they gave of her allegations.) A fourth woman, an attorney who has held prominent positions in the New York legal community, says that Schneiderman made an advance toward her; when she rebuffed him, he slapped her across the face with such force that it left a mark that lingered the next day. She recalls screaming in surprise and pain, and beginning to cry, and says that she felt frightened. She has asked to remain unidentified, but shared a photograph of the injury with The New Yorker.
In a statement, Schneiderman said, “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
Manning Barish was romantically involved with Schneiderman from the summer of 2013 until New Year’s Day in 2015. Selvaratnam was with him from the summer of 2016 until the fall of 2017. Both are articulate, progressive Democratic feminists in their forties who live in Manhattan. They work and socialize in different circles, and although they have become aware of each other’s stories, they have only a few overlapping acquaintances; to this day, they have never spoken to each other. Over the past year, both watched with admiration as other women spoke out about sexual misconduct. But, as Schneiderman used the authority of his office to assume a major role in the #MeToo movement, their anguish and anger grew.
In February, four months after the first stories about Weinstein broke, Schneiderman announced that his office was filing a civil-rights suit against him. At a press conference, he denounced Weinstein, saying, “We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here.” On May 2nd, at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman launched an investigation into the past handling of criminal complaints against Weinstein by the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., and the New York City Police Department. (In 2015, Vance declined to bring criminal charges against Weinstein, saying that he lacked sufficient evidence—a decision criticized by activist groups.) In a speech, Cuomo explained that “sexual-assault complaints must be pursued aggressively, and to the fullest extent of the law.” The expanding investigation of the Weinstein case puts Schneiderman at the center of one of the most significant sexual-misconduct cases in recent history.
Schneiderman’s activism on behalf of feminist causes has increasingly won him praise from women’s groups. On May 1st, the New York-based National Institute for Reproductive Health honored him as one of three “Champions of Choice” at its annual fund-raising luncheon. Accepting the award, Schneiderman said, “If a woman cannot control her body, she is not truly equal.” But, as Manning Barish sees it, “you cannot be a champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed, and saying to them, ‘You’re a fucking whore.’ ” She says of Schneiderman’s involvement in the Weinstein investigation, “How can you put a perpetrator in charge of the country’s most important sexual-assault case?” Selvaratnam describes Schneiderman as “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” figure, and says that seeing him lauded as a supporter of women has made her “feel sick,” adding, “This is a man who has staked his entire career, his personal narrative, on being a champion for women publicly. But he abuses them privately. He needs to be called out.”
Manning Barish notes that many of her friends attended the N.I.R.H. luncheon. “His hypocrisy is epic,” she says. “He’s fooled so many people.” Manning Barish includes herself among them. She says that she met Schneiderman in July, 2013, through mutual friends. She had become a blogger and political activist after opposing her younger brother’s deployment to Iraq and working with groups such as MoveOn.org. Amicably divorced from Chris Barish, a hospitality-industry executive, she was a single mother with a young daughter and socially prominent friends. Schneiderman, who was rising in Democratic politics after being elected attorney general, in 2010, was also divorced. His ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, a lobbyist and political strategist at the firm SKDKnickerbocker, currently serves as one of his political consultants. They have a grown daughter.
Manning Barish says that she fell quickly for Schneiderman and was happy to be involved with someone who seemed to share her progressive idealism and enjoy her feistiness. Page Six chronicled the romance, calling her a “ravishing redhead” and noting that, at a fund-raiser, the television producer Norman Lear had introduced her as Schneiderman’s “bride-to-be.”
But Manning Barish began to see signs of controlling and abusive behavior. Soon after she started dating Schneiderman, he told her to remove a small tattoo from her wrist; it wasn’t appropriate, he said, if she were to become the wife of a politician. The process of having it removed was painful and expensive. In retrospect, she says, it was the first step in trying to control her body. “Taking a strong woman and tearing her to pieces is his jam,” she says.
About four weeks after they became physically involved, she says, Schneiderman grew violent. One night, they were in the bedroom of his Upper West Side apartment, still clothed but getting ready for bed, and lightly baiting each other. As she recalls it, he called her “a whore,” and she talked back. They had both been drinking, and her recollection of their conversation is blurry, but what happened next remains vivid. Schneiderman, she says, backed her up to the edge of his bed. “All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,” Manning Barish says. “It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”
She finally freed herself and got back on her feet. “I was crying and in shock,” she says. She recalls shouting, “Are you crazy?” To her astonishment, Schneiderman accused her of scratching him. At one point—she can’t remember if it was at this moment or in a later conversation—he told her, “You know, hitting an officer of the law is a felony.”
After the incident, Manning Barish left the apartment, telling him that she would never come back. “I want to make it absolutely clear,” she says. “This was under no circumstances a sex game gone wrong. This did not happen while we were having sex. I was fully dressed and remained that way. It was completely unexpected and shocking. I did not consent to physical assault.”
In the following days, Manning Barish confided to three close female friends that Schneiderman had hit her. All of them have confirmed this to The New Yorker. “She was distraught,” one of the friends, a high-profile media figure, says. “She was very, very upset. This wasn’t a gentle smack. He clocked her ear. I was shocked.” She notes, “Michelle had mentioned that he drank a lot, and that he changed under the influence of alcohol, but I’d never anticipated that he would be violent.” The friend describes Manning Barish as having seemed “sad” and “torn,” because “she’d really wanted the relationship to work.”
The novelist Salman Rushdie, who dated Manning Barish before Schneiderman did, and who has been her close friend for nearly fifteen years, says that she confided in him as well. “She called me and told me he had hit her,” Rushdie recalls. “She was obviously very upset. I was horrified.” In his view, Schneiderman’s behavior does not fall into the kind of gray area that should remain private. “It was clear to me that it crossed a line,” he says. Rushdie, who describes Manning Barish as “a very truthful person, in my experience,” advised her to stay away from Schneiderman.
But Manning Barish went back to him, a decision that she regrets. After the attack, she says, Schneiderman “called and called” her. A few days later, on a weekday afternoon, his security detail drove him to her apartment, and he showed up at her door with an armload of flowers and a case of wine. She found the wine surprising, given the fact that alcohol had fuelled his violent behavior. She recalls saying over and over, “You hit me! You hurt me! You should never hit a woman!” But he didn’t want to talk about having hit her. “The hitting was not an issue for him,” she says. Before long, they reconciled.
Manning Barish says that her ear bothered her for months. It often felt painful and clogged, and she kept hearing odd gurgling sounds. Once, blood trickled out, reaching her collarbone. Eventually, Manning Barish sought medical help from Dr. Gwen Korovin, an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Manning Barish shared her medical records with The New Yorker. They confirm that, on September 13, 2014, Korovin found and removed “dried bloody crust” from Manning Barish’s ear. Manning Barish thought that the slap might have caused the injury, but when Korovin asked her what had happened she said that she might have injured herself with a Q-tip. “I was protecting Eric,” Manning Barish says. “And I was ashamed. For victims, shame plays a huge role in most of these stories. I want people to know that.” Korovin was asked by The New Yorker if the injury could have been caused by a slap. “Yes, it could be consistent with a slap,” she said. “You could perforate an eardrum in a lot of ways, with a Q-tip or with a slap.”
Manning Barish and Schneiderman were together, off and on, for nearly two years. She says that when they had sex he often slapped her across the face without her consent, and that she felt “emotionally battered” by cruel remarks that he made. She says that he criticized how she looked and dressed, and “controlled what I ate.” Manning Barish, who is five feet seven, lost thirty pounds, falling to a hundred and three. In a photograph from the period, she looks emaciated; her hair, she recalls, started to fall out. Nevertheless, he squeezed her legs and called them “chubby.”
Manning Barish says that Schneiderman pressed her to consume huge amounts of alcohol. She recalls, “I would come over for dinner. An already half-empty bottle of red wine would be on the counter. He had had a head start. ‘Very stressful day,’ he would say.” Sometimes, if she didn’t drink quickly enough, she says, he would “come to me like a baby who wouldn’t eat its food, and hold the glass to my lips while holding my face, and sweetly but forcefully, like a parent, say, ‘Come on, Mimi, drink, drink, drink,’ and essentially force me—at times actually spilling it down my chin and onto my chest.” Schneiderman, she recalls, “would almost always drink two bottles of wine in a night, then bring a bottle of Scotch into the bedroom. He would get absolutely plastered five nights out of seven.” On one occasion, she recalls, “he literally fell on his face in my kitchen, straight down, like a tree falling.” Another evening, he smashed his leg against an open drawer, cutting it so badly that “there was blood all over the place.” She bandaged it, but the next day she went to his office to change the dressing, because the bleeding hadn’t stopped.
Manning Barish says that Schneiderman also took prescription tranquillizers, and often asked her to refill a prescription that she had for Xanax, so that he could reserve “about half” the pills for himself. (Schneiderman’s spokesperson said that he has “never commandeered anyone’s medications.”) Sometimes in bed, she recalls, he would be “shaking me and grabbing my face” while demanding that she repeat such things as “I’m a little whore.” She says that he also told her, “If you ever left me, I’d kill you.”
Evan Stark, a forensic social worker and an emeritus professor at Rutgers, is the author of a landmark book, “Coercive Control,” in which he argues that domestic abuse is just as often psychological as it is physical. Abusive men, he writes, often “terrorize” and “control” their partners by demeaning them, particularly about the traits or accomplishments of which they are proudest. Manning Barish says that Schneiderman often mocked her political activism. When she told him of her plan to attend an anti-gun demonstration with various political figures and a group of parents from Sandy Hook Elementary School, he dismissed the effort, calling the demonstrators “losers.” He added, “Go ahead, if it makes you feel better to do your little political things.” When she was using her computer, he’d sometimes say, “Oh, look at little Mimi. So cute—she’s working!” He told Manning Barish that, because she had childcare, she wasn’t “a real single mother.”
Manning Barish broke up with Schneiderman a second time, and then got back together with him. He’d been talking about marrying her, she says, and she somehow convinced herself that the real problem between them was her fear of commitment. In January, 2015, she ended the relationship a third time, feeling degraded. After that, they got together romantically a few more times, but since 2016 she has been in touch with him only sporadically.
Since the #MeToo movement began, Manning Barish has been active on social-media platforms, cheering on women who have spoken out, including those whose accusations prompted the resignation of the Minnesota senator Al Franken, a widely admired Democrat. Once, she made an oblique reference to Schneiderman on social media, in connection with a political issue. He called her and, in a tone that she describes as “nasty,” said, “Don’t ever write about me. You don’t want to do that.” Manning Barish says that she took his remarks as a threat, just as she took seriously a comment that he’d once made after she objected to him “yanking” her across a street. She recalls saying to him, “Jaywalking is against the law,” and him responding, “I am the law.” Manning Barish says, “If there is a sentence that sums him up, it’s that.”
Schneiderman was elected to the New York State Senate in 1998, and served for twelve years. He wrote many laws, including one that created specific penalties for strangulation. He introduced the bill in 2010, after chairing a committee that investigated domestic-violence charges against the former state senator Hiram Monserrate, a Democrat, who was expelled from the legislature after having been convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. During the hearings, the legislators learned that New York State imposed no specific criminal penalty for choking, even though it is a common prelude to domestic-violence homicides. Not only did Schneiderman’s bill make life-threatening strangulation a grave crime; it also criminalized less serious cases involving “an intent to impede breathing” as misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison. “I’m just sorry it took us so long in New York State to do this,” Schneiderman declared at the time. “I think this will save a lot of lives.”
Jennifer Friedman, a legal expert on domestic violence, says that she cannot square Schneiderman’s public and private behavior. Anyone knowledgeable about intimate-partner violence, she says, knows that choking is “a known lethality indicator.” She adds, “I cannot fathom that someone who drafted the legislation on strangulation is unfamiliar with such concepts.” She also says, “A slap is not just a slap—it reverberates through the rest of the relationship, making her afraid of setting him off.” She adds, “People aren’t usually prosecuted for it, but, in the state of New York, slapping is assault when it results in pain or physical injury.”
In the summer of 2016, the attorney general may have crossed this line again. He went to a party in the Hamptons, where he drank heavily, and invited another guest—a woman he’d known for some time—to join him at an after-party. An accomplished Ivy League-educated lawyer with government experience, she had worked closely with his office in the past, and supported him politically. She says that she agreed to let a man in Schneiderman’s security detail drive them to the next destination. But, when they arrived at the house, there was no party; it was where Schneiderman was staying. The security officer left the property.
The lawyer and Schneiderman began making out, but he said things that repelled her. He told the woman, a divorced mother, that professional women with big jobs and children had so many decisions to make that, when it came to sex, they secretly wanted men to take charge. She recalls him saying, “Yeah, you act a certain way and look a certain way, but I know that at heart you are a dirty little slut. You want to be my whore.” He became more sexually aggressive, but she was repulsed by his talk, and pulled away from him. She says that “suddenly—at least, in my mind’s eye—he drew back, and there was a moment where I was, like, ‘What’s happening?’ ” Then, she recalls, “He slapped me across the face hard, twice,” adding, “I was stunned.”
Schneiderman hit her so hard, she says, that the blow left a red handprint. “What the fuck did you just do?” she screamed, and started to sob. “I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. “For a split second, I was scared.” She notes that, in all her years of dating, she has never been in a situation like the one with Schneiderman. “He just really smacked me,” she says.
When she told him that she wanted to leave, she recalls, he started to “freak out,” saying that he’d misjudged her. “You’d really be surprised,” he claimed. “A lot of women like it. They don’t always think they like it, but then they do, and they ask for more.” She again demanded to be taken home. They got into his car, and it quickly became apparent how intoxicated he was. As he drove, weaving along back roads, she was terrified that he’d kill not just her but another driver. She says that Schneiderman “broke the law at least once that night.” (“This is untrue,” Schneiderman’s spokesperson said.)
The next day, she told two friends, and sent them a photograph of the mark on her face. (Both women corroborate this.) Another photograph of the lawyer, taken later that day at a family birthday party, shows faint raised marks splayed on her cheek. One of the friends says of Schneiderman, “He seemed not to know what the word ‘consent’ means.”
Given the woman’s prominence in the legal sphere, Schneiderman’s actions had exposed him to tremendous risk. Yet she took no official action against him. “Now that I know it’s part of a pattern, I think, God, I should have reported it,” she says. “But, back then, I believed that it was a one-time incident. And I thought, He’s a good attorney general, he’s doing good things. I didn’t want to jeopardize that.” She notes that he did not hit her again, after she protested. Nevertheless, she says of the assault, “I knew it was wrong,” adding, “Our top law officer, this guy with a platform for women’s rights, just smacked away so much of what I thought he stood for.”
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