February 1, 2020
Greta Jochem
Gazette Net

NORTHAMPTON — In recent weeks, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has faced calls to resign over what sexual assault survivors and their advocates say is lenient treatment of men accused of sexual assault.
Northampton resident Marissa Hoechstetter is helping lead the charge and formed Reform the Sex Crimes Unit, “a campaign for accountability and transparency in the Manhattan district attorney’s office,” she said.
Hoechstetter says she was sexually abused by her OB-GYN, Robert Hadden, at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian hospital facilities in New York City. The DA’s office told her that too much time had elapsed before she reported the incidents and her case fell outside the statute of limitations, she said. As a BuzzFeed News article details, when Hoechstetter reported Hadden, prosecutors were already negotiating a plea deal with him, and he later pleaded guilty to abuse charges connected to two other women, including a felony.
His punishment: losing his medical license. He spent no time in prison.
When Hoechstetter reported her alleged assault to the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 2015, she trusted them, she said. “I would say I was naive, and I had a vision that these people were working for me and being honest. What I kind of learned later was they were really incentivized to make this go away.”
More than 45 former patients of Hadden, including Hoechstetter, are part of a lawsuit against Columbia University and its related hospitals, according to a statement. And two weeks ago, Evelyn Yang, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, told CNN in an interview that Hadden sexually assaulted her while she was his patient in 2012.
Last spring, Hoechstetter pushed New York City to allow people to redact the name of a physician from a birth certificate if the doctor’s license has been revoked or surrendered — an effort the Gazette covered. Then in the fall, Hoechstetter founded Reform the Sex Crimes Unit.
Hadden is “the most prolific serial sexual predator in the history of New York state,” Anthony T. DiPietro, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The motivation for the campaign goes beyond Hoechstetter’s experience and Hadden. “It is about the bigger picture — it’s not just about the Hadden case,” she said. “This is about a clear pattern of abuse of power.”
Hoechstetter said she was also pushed to launch the group after reading comments the DA’s office made to The New York Times about the case for an article last year that she called “deeply offensive.”
She pointed to a section of the article quoting Vance’s chief assistant, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, for example, saying that the case had “serious proof issues.” Paraphrasing Friedman Agnifilo, the article reads, “the women who were pregnant at the time of the assaults could not see what Mr. Hadden was doing, because their views were obstructed, a fact the defense would exploit to undermine their testimony.”
Some have denounced Vance’s office for how it’s handled past similar cases. In 2015 Vance’s office decided to not prosecute Harvey Weinstein on charges that he groped a model, and in 2011, it suggested the lowest sex offender level for Jeffrey Epstein, the New York Times reported. In 2018, Vance’s office did bring criminal charges against Weinstein.
Vance’s office defended its work in a statement to the Gazette, saying that “there is no Sex Crimes Unit more talented, experienced, and well-resourced currently operating in any district attorney’s office in the United States.”
“Dr. Hadden was a serial sexual predator who used access and power to take advantage of women in their most vulnerable states,” it continues. “Because a conviction is never a guaranteed outcome in a criminal trial, our primary concern was holding him accountable and making sure he could never do this again — which is why we insisted on a felony conviction and permanent surrender of his medical license. While we stand by our legal analysis and resulting disposition of this difficult case, we regret that this resolution has caused survivors pain.”
Hoechstetter is not convinced.
“We want him to resign because of a number of really clear failings,” she said of Vance. “But we also want to ensure that the next district attorney is prioritizing sex crimes, taking it seriously,” she said.
Reform the Sex Crimes Unit — a group made up of survivors, advocates, and others who take issue with the unit — is focusing on the 2021 Manhattan district attorney election and developing a platform of positions for candidates to adopt. The group is also planning to hold a candidate forum and grade candidates.
“We are working to push the conversation about specifics. It’s not enough to me for a candidate to say they are going to overhaul the unit,” Hoechstetter said. “How, specifically, are you going to do that?”
The group will work on public education, as many people don’t realize that the DA is elected — for example, a 2017 Massachusetts ACLU poll found that 38 percent of people didn’t know that the DA an elected position. Voting is important, Hoechstetter said. “That’s the only way you can hold them accountable.”

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