Survivors of alleged sexual harassment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, disgraced ex-movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and former Columbia University gynecologist Robert Hadden joined with state lawmakers Friday to call for a law that would give victims a platform to bring their alleged abusers to court.
Among those speaking at the Zoom news conference was Lindsey Boylan, who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, including an unwelcome kiss and a suggestion that they play strip poker while flying in the governor’s private plane.
She said it was “incredibly difficult” to tell her story of harassment.
“I thought it was something I’d share maybe 50 years from now, when a lot of time has passed, and the power structure had passed,” Boylan said.
But she said after she spoke to another woman who had a similar experience working for Cuomo that “mirrored” her own, she knew she had to speak out “to try to prevent this from happening to others in the future.”
Cuomo has denied that he ever touched anyone inappropriately and has said he’s sorry if anyone took offense at any of his remarks.
Boylan is among those backing a measure modeled after the 2019 Child Victims Act for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The Adult Survivors Act would suspend the current three- to six-year statute of limitations and give survivors of sexual assault or harassment a one-year window of opportunity to bring suit against their abusers. It would apply to people who were 18 or older when the alleged crimes against them were committed.
Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn-based attorney representing survivors of sexual assault and harassment, said survivors aren’t always immediately ready to come forward.
“Often survivors need years, or even decades, to process abuse, and reach the physical and psychological safety to address it,” Goldberg said. “But by the time many people come to us, their claims are outside the statute of limitations, and they are not able to pursue the closure they deserve.”
Women who suffered abuse by Weinstein and Hadden also spoke, as did members of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, who are former staffers of abusive state lawmakers. They helped win passage of an updated anti-sexual harassment law in New York in 2019.
They say that law, heralded as one of the most progressive in the nation at the time, has some big loopholes that need to be closed. The personal staff of elected officials, which includes employees in the governor’s office and in the Legislature, are exempt from the law’s protections against discrimination and harassment.
Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said those workers, who include several of Cuomo’s accusers, need the law’s protections.
“As we currently speak, the state of New York, a place that deems itself a sanctuary for survivors, is harboring an abuser in its highest office,” Biaggi said.
Another measure, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, would prevent employers from publicly releasing personnel records to retaliate against workers who report allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination. The measure is in response to actions by Cuomo’s top aides, who released what they said were personnel records of Boylan after she accused the governor of sexual harassment.
“Nobody should have to experience the retaliation that I’ve faced in the last few months,” Boylan said.
The bill would also allow employees who are the victims of workplace retaliation to report their complaints directly to the state’s attorney general.
Cuomo, in addition to denying the allegations, has ignored calls to resign from most major elected Democrats in New York, including U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican.
The survivors at Friday’s news conference were divided over whether the governor’s stance is a setback for the anti-sexual harassment movement.
Elizabeth Crothers, who was among the first to come forward nearly two decades ago with sexual abuse charges against a then-top aide to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said the governor’s continued position of power could make it more “scary” for others to speak out.
But Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said it strengthens survivors by drawing more attention to what she called pervasive sexual harassment in state government. Niou holds the seat of the now-imprisoned Silver, who was convicted of corruption charges.
“Every single time that we are speaking up, someone else is telling us their story as well,” Niou said. “And I think that, more than anything, is what is going to strengthen our movement.”
Biaggi agreed, and said anti-sexual harassment sentiments are at a “fever pitch” at the state Capitol.
State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the allegations against Cuomo, and the state Assembly has begun an impeachment inquiry.