What Did Columbia Know? Survivors of Convicted Sex Abuser OB-GYN Robert Hadden Demand Full Accountability
Written by GRB on 31/07/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
A warning to our listeners, to our viewers, to our readers: This next segment includes discussion of sexual assault.
Here in New York, former Columbia University gynecologist Dr. Robert Hadden has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on federal sexual abuse charges. The sentencing comes after Hadden was convicted in January of luring patients across state lines to appointments here in Manhattan, where he sexually assaulted them. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman handed down the maximum prison sentence allowed Tuesday, calling the case unprecedented because of Hadden’s hundreds of victims and how his abuse continued for two decades at Columbia. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called Hadden a “predator in a white coat,” whose victims, quote, “trusted him as a physician, only to instead become victims of his heinous predilection,” unquote.
One of the survivors, Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, wrote, quote, “To this day, I’m still waiting for Columbia University to notify former patients that a now twice-convicted sex offender worked at Columbia for 20-plus years. They’ve been saying that that’s not their responsibility, but how does that make sense?” Yang asked. After Hadden was found guilty in January, Evelyn Yang responded to the verdict on a CNN exclusive interview.
EVELYN YANG: I feel such relief and gratitude, you know, the fact that we almost had a second chance at it. Right? So, the first time he was convicted, he basically got a slap on the wrist. And this time, I feel like it was the first time, in this trial, that a fuller extent of his crimes were presented and considered.
AMY GOODMAN: Lawyers representing survivors say Columbia University had a long history of ignoring Hadden’s behavior in order to protect its reputation instead of acting in the victims’ interests. So far, Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital paid out $71 million lawsuit in 2021 to 79 former patients and $165 million in 2022 to 147 former patients. In 2016, Hadden pleaded guilty in New York state court to abusing two women, as part of what survivors called a “slap on the wrist” plea deal with the then-Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Cy Vance. Hadden lost his medical license but avoided prison or probation.
In response to advocacy from survivors, last May, New York state passed the Adult Survivors Act, which created a special one-year lookback window to allow individuals who were 18 or older when they were sexually assaulted in the state to file a lawsuit against the person who harmed them and/or the negligent institution. The act was enacted November 24th last year. Now lawyers are filing another round of lawsuits under the New York Adult Survivors Act.
We’re joined right now by two guests who were former patients of Dr. Hadden. Laurie Maldonado attended the trial of former Columbia University doctor Hadden and gave testimony in January before he was remanded. She was a gynecology and then an obstetrics patient of Hadden’s between 2003 and 2012. And Marissa Hoechstetter gave a victim impact statement during the federal trial of Hadden. In 2015, she reported Dr. Hadden to the Manhattan DA, Cy Vance, and became one of the first people to speak out against Hadden publicly. She was a patient of Hadden’s from 2010 to 2012.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Marissa, let’s begin with you. Your response to the 20-year sentence that Hadden received, and what you’re pursuing now?
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Well, thank you so much for that introduction and for having us.
You know, it is an important milestone in a years-long quest for justice. Hadden is someone who has received special treatment and really continued to evade accountability for a very long time, so it is certainly a sort of vindication and gratifying to see that sentence, to be there. But, ultimately, prison for someone like him does not get at the institutional accountability and does not repair the harm done to me and many other people. But it was really something incredible to witness.
AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to also ask Laurie Maldonado — you were in the courtroom when Robert Hadden was sentenced. Talk about your response, first to the guilty verdict, and now — you were not one of the people involved in this case, but you did get to testify. That’s very interesting. And if you could explain why?
LAURIE MALDONADO: Thank you, Amy, for having us. It’s an honor to be on Democracy Now! and to bring light on this issue. It’s so great to hear Evelyn’s voice before — just she has notified so many women — and to have Marissa on here with me. I’m so inspired by so many of these women.
You had asked about my response to the trial. And really, it was a step towards justice. Marissa and I and many survivors were in the courtroom. There were nine that testified, and brave, courageous women were cross-examined, and that’s what the jury gave their verdict on. And then we had the opportunity — Judge Berman gave the women the opportunity to give testimony to Hadden and to him. And so, a lot of us women, it just — it was empowerful, it was intense, and we were really able to share our stories. And we were validated and heard, and that was just a really big part of the experience, and just grateful. I later found out that Judge Berman was a social worker and got his MSW from Fordham, and I’m a social worker, and so I really appreciate how he held the case, and just allowing to have survivors to come forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Laurie, if you could share your story, whatever you feel comfortable with, how you came to be Dr. Hadden’s patient? You used him as a gynecologist for years, and then you became pregnant, and he was an obstetrician-gynecologist. Talk about what happened and how this process took place. I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of women, right?
LAURIE MALDONADO: Oh, Amy, the last time I heard, 250 women, and now I think I’ve heard the number 340. And we think that it’s hundreds. So this is a lot of women that were involved.
I first saw Hadden in 2003, about. I was in my mid-twenties. And, you know, I selected Hadden to be my OB-GYN because it was at Columbia University, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, so that was a prestigious hospital. And so I started that relationship all the way up ’til 2012. So, almost a decade, Hadden was my doctor. I, like many women, you know, trusted Hadden with my care. I trusted him with my well-being. I thought he had my best interest in mind. And he was a sexual — a serial sexual predator, that had really — you know, every visit was an opportunity for him to commit abuse and assault.
I think, you know, early on, there was lots of grooming behaviors, and we heard a lot of this from the testimonies that women gave. And the same thing for me: long breast exams, you know, vaginal exams. He would say — asked inappropriate questions about your sex life. He told me, and he told many of the women, that, “Oh, you know, you have a tilted uterus, and so that just means I have to go a little bit deeper on the exams.” So, and part of that, of me being young, of this being my first OB-GYN, so not knowing the standard of care, that I didn’t realize that each visit was abuse. And so, that’s —
AMY GOODMAN: And were there nurses in the room? If you can talk about that, and also the fact that he didn’t use gloves when he was examining you? This issue of saying you had a tilted uterus made you, in an odd sense, more beholden to him, because you thought you wanted to be pregnant, you wanted to make sure, and he talked with you about — you know, he could make sure that you would be pregnant.
LAURIE MALDONADO: Yeah. Thank you for asking those questions. You know, exactly. So, there was never a nurse, that I can recall, present in the room, or they might have done the first, you know, kind of the vitals and then had left the room, so you were often alone with him. He would often say, “Oh, you have lots of moles. I just want to make sure they’re not cancerous,” so it would be an opportunity for him, you know, to totally take you out of the gown. And so, there was a lot of that.
There’s something, too, Amy, of just, you know, really wanting to be pregnant. And I had miscarried earlier around — before the birth of my son. And, you know, he had told me, “Oh, well, you know, you’re going to get pregnant. My predecessor invented the RhoGAM shot in the 1960s. And because you’re Rh-negative, we’re going to give this shot to you, and that will make it so you won’t miscarry.” So he would use knowledge, you know, where you would actually believe, like, “He could be my only OB-GYN. He’s the only one that could deliver my baby.” So, he really used knowledge, you know, to kind of allure women into trusting him and having a long relationship.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened when you were nine months pregnant? And just say what you feel comfortable saying.
LAURIE MALDONADO: Thank you. I was sexually assaulted by Robert Hadden two days before the birth of my child. I went in for, you know, my kind of — my checkup. My ex-husband was in the room with me. And we were just excited. I remember that in the office room, my — I went to the bathroom, and my mucus plug had dropped, so I was really imminent away from the birth, and we were really excited. And Hadden came in the room, and he had a glimmer in his eye. And I thought that that glimmer was that he was excited, like me, for the birth, but now I realize it was an opportunity for him to commit sexual assault.
And he later said, “Oh, one more thing. I need to check you.” And he took me behind the curtain, away from my husband, and put me on the exam table. And what I thought was, you know, that he was going to check my cervix just to make sure that the baby was OK. But that’s not what happened. What did happen was Hadden used his hands to harm me, and he stuck his fist inside of my vagina. And it was so painful, and I screamed and I cried out in pain. And he abruptly left the room.
My husband at the time came over to me, checked on me. He said, “Are you OK?” And I was like, “No, I’m not OK.” And then he asked me a really important question. He said, “Do you feel violated?” And I said, “Yes.” And I think I felt violated, and I was confused, because I didn’t know if that was a medical procedure or what that was about. So, I was really — you know, I couldn’t stand. I had a tough time sitting. I couldn’t eat. I was really disturbed, you know.
And at that moment — and I think this happens — you second-guess yourself. And later, I understood that what I did was I repressed that memory, because I had to survive the moment. And I was giving birth in 48 hours, right? That I was in labor. And so, my husband and I just kind of — we focused on the labor.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you give birth to this beautiful baby boy. From that moment that he punched you, he disappeared, the doctor.
LAURIE MALDONADO: He disappeared, yeah. That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t deliver your son. And what did you come to understand after? And this brings Columbia into the story. I mean, it was involved before, too, because you actually went to him because of that, sort of his elite credentials.
LAURIE MALDONADO: Yeah. Thank you. I think, so, you know, when I went to see him — so, I went a few visits after to see Hadden. And I remember that I showed up, and I was told that Hadden took a leave. And that was it, right? And I saw another doctor, who just said, “Hey, I noticed you were a longtime patient of Hadden. I wanted to make sure you’re OK,” right? You know, so never kind of saying that Hadden was arrested, right? Never kind of coming forward, and just seeing if I was OK in that moment. So I think that that was part of it, right? That we were never notified.
The way we were notified were people like Marissa and Dian Monson and Evelyn Yang. There’s all these — that’s how we were notified. When I first realized the scale, this was about when my son was a few years old, between 2 and 3. I was on the subway, and, you know, it was the New York subway, commuting to work, and I saw the picture of Hadden that said, ”GYNO IS SICKO.” Right? And I had a panic attack on my way to work, realizing — you know, going back to that moment, realizing that was sexual assault, realizing I had this doctor for such a long time, and, you know, just being in shock.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Laurie Maldonado, who was right there at the sentencing of Dr. Hadden, who testified at the trial. Marissa Hoechstetter, you were there, too — you, too, a patient, a victim of Dr. Hadden. Can you now take us forward, Marissa? Because there’s this larger issue. You’ve got the man who’s going to prison for years, and then you’ve got the institution he worked for. And you have the fact that Hadden actually did have a plea deal with the previous New York DA. Now it’s Alvin Bragg, but before him was Cy Vance. And explain what you now understand was happening with Hadden, the number of people who had come forward and complained to Columbia.
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Yeah. Thank you, Laurie, for sharing so much with us and with the audience. I’m always in awe when I listen to you.
We know that Hadden saw something like 6,000 to 8,000 patients in his 20-plus-year career at Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. I firmly believe that he went into this profession with the intent to use his position of power and privilege and abuse people. So, I think as more continues to come out, the institution has an obligation to at least inform patients of what they were exposed to. I don’t know the names of those 6,000 to 8,000 patients, but they surely could make a good-faith effort to notify people.
So, we know that they received at least one letter in the early ’90s complaining — from a patient, complaining about being sexually assaulted by him. They wrote back. The head of the department at the time acknowledged her letter and said he would look into it after his vacation, and he never did. We heard nurses testify in the trial. We’ve had other people come forward. We know that there were earlier settlements with victims, that they were forced to sign NDAs. So, Columbia very much knew about his behavior, and ultimately, I think, was just thinking only about their own liability.
You know, one thing that I think is important to note, and Evelyn has shared this in her story, but he was arrested in June of 2012, when someone called the police about his behavior. And Columbia allowed him to come back to work for about six or eight weeks, and he assaulted people during that period. So, even if you put aside whatever has come forward about his decades-long career, they very tangibly knew that he had been arrested for sexual assault by the New York Police Department, and allowed him to continue working.
I, like Laurie, read some of the headlines, you know, in the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and it felt very salacious. It was validating in some ways, because I knew I wasn’t alone, but it was not something that I really wanted to kind of speak publicly about. I continued to follow the original criminal prosecution, and ultimately did go forward to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to report what had happened to me, because I felt really strongly that the women who were involved in that not be alone, and I wanted to make sure that I was using my voice to validate them, to support them and to make sure that this person wouldn’t practice again.
You know, kind of in hindsight and looking back, this experience was happening kind of right before the #MeToo movement. And then, through the news reporting on Harvey Weinstein and others, really, that the Manhattan DA at a time had really given preferential treatment to white men in positions of power who were accused of sexual assault, I came to realize that the treatment that Hadden had received, while his name at the time was not famous, Columbia and his attorneys had really accessed that same sort of network of position and privilege. His attorney made a campaign contribution to Cy Vance on the day that the plea agreement was reached in 2015. Things like that, that were really hard to unsee, and so I never really set out wanting to talk about being sexually assaulted while I was pregnant, but I wanted to talk about the failure of the justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted —
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Because I — yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — to get your response to Columbia University and its affiliated hospitals announcing their $165 million settlement with 147 of Robert Hadden’s former patients last year. Columbia University Irving Medical Center released this statement, saying, “We deeply regret the pain that Robert Hadden’s patients suffered and hope that these resolutions will provide some measure of support for the women he hurt. All those who came forward should be commended. We are committed to the safety and dignity of every one of our patients and have adopted policies to ensure they are protected and empowered while in our care.” So, you’ve got that settlement of $167 million with Columbia. You’ve got another one, $71 million. I think it’s up to $236 million, about a quarter of a billion dollars, that Columbia has to pay out. Are you part of those two settlements, Marissa?
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: I’m not part of those settlements. I have a separate settlement agreement with Columbia.
The thing I would say about settlements is that a lot gets focused on the number, right? These are big numbers. They’re mostly being paid by insurance companies. I don’t think that any of that is affecting the bottom line. We have not a lot of options to offer recourse to survivors. So, even that, I think, you know, the number could be justifiably even higher, and I think it should continue to go up as more people seek a resolution with them.
You know, that statement you read really only came after years — years — of asking for some response from them. Before I spoke publicly, I asked for them to participate in a process whereby I can get a new birth certificate for my children that didn’t have Robert Hadden’s name, and they refused to speak to me. Their initial statements were much more distant from what had happened. So, one of the things, I think, through our public advocacy, and really the passage of the Adult Survivors Act, which you mentioned in the introduction, kind of forced their hand. When you remove statutes of limitation from the equation, they have to be much more responsible to the people coming forward.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear —
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: So — yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — are there a number of women who are suing him now as a result of what you pushed through, the New York Adult Survivors Act, that Kathy Hochul, the governor, signed last year? Which, by the way, separately, allowed E. Jean Carroll to go back and sue former President Trump under.
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Correct. I mean, really, the Adult Survivors Act was about putting the power back in the hands of survivors, all survivors. Of course, I was advocating for women that I knew assaulted by Hadden. I think the number of additional lawsuits we’ll see is in the hundreds. You know, people focus on the numbers of people coming forward. I think it’s important to also acknowledge that the Adult Survivors Act forces the institutions to come to the table earlier in mediation. So, whether or not something actually becomes filed and goes to a lawsuit, you know, focusing on the number isn’t always maybe the best measure. But it gave a lot of leverage to a lot of survivors.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what you pushed through in the New York City Council, and this issue with your twin daughters of not having Hadden’s name on their beautiful birth certificate.
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Yeah, you know, it was really something very sentimental and kind of emotional for me when I went to register them for kindergarten, and I pulled out this document that I needed to provide to the school district, and his name was there, name of attendant at delivery. Not all states have this. If I had given birth at home, it could have been my husband’s name on there. Could have been a, you know, taxi driver on the West Side Highway. But it was his name. And I felt, like, this gut punch, that this person who had harmed me — and, you know, I had a C-section. I think the most painful part often for me is that his hands cut open my body, reached in and took my children out. You know, he was the first person in the whole world to touch them, and that’s not something I can change. And I just really did not want his name to remain on this document for them. I have to deal with the connection to him, but I wanted to end that for them.
AMY GOODMAN: Well —
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
MARISSA HOECHSTETTER: Long story short, mostly because Columbia would not provide additional information to the state, it needed to be legislated. And we passed a law that allowed for, if doctors have lost their medical license, you can have their name redacted from these official documents.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Marissa Hoechstetter and Laurie Maldonado, survivors of a now-convicted and sentenced OB-GYN, thank you for joining us.