Evelyn Yang is the bravest woman I know

Yang told CNN’s Dana Bash that the abusive behavior began in 2012 when Dr. Robert Hadden, then her doctor, began asking her inappropriate questions about her sexual activity unrelated to her pregnancy or the baby. She said the behavior got to the point of assault as she continued her visits, which she later learned were medically unnecessary.

As Yang’s story went public Thursday evening, Twitter blew up in a rare display of unity and support, and the hashtag #WeLoveYouEvelynYang began trending.

I cried as I forced myself to get through reading this woman’s story. Yang’s sheer courage is undeniable, but it also made me think of the unmitigated horror she went through, how hard she fought even as both medical and criminal justice institutions apparently failed her, and how purely fearless she is not only to share her story now but continue to give a voice to survivors.

“Everyone has their own MeToo story,” Evelyn Yang said. “It’s far too prevalent. But not everyone can tell their story. Not everyone has the audience or platform to tell their story, and I actually feel like I’m in this very privileged position to be able to do that.”

Yang is one of 18 women who worked with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to put together a case against Hadden, who was a gynecologist at Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. After Yang testified before a grand jury, which indicted Hadden on multiple felony sex charges, the office of Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance — the same DA’s office that was lenient with Jeffrey Epstein and initially failed to prosecute now notorious alleged sexual abuser, Harvey Weinstein — reached a plea deal with Hadden in 2016.

As part of the deal, Hadden pleaded guilty to two charges, would lose his medical license and register as the lowest-level sex offender, but would avoid any jail time. Hadden has denied the allegations to which he did not plead guilty.

Yang told CNN that the assistant district attorney who had been working with her seemed disappointed with this outcome. The ADA declined through a city spokesperson to comment to CNN, but Yang told CNN that when she spoke to the ADA: “She sounded apologetic. She told me that the deal was made above her head, that she was taken out of the negotiations because she was pushing for jail time.”

What makes Yang’s story, and that of the other women survivors especially horrifying, is that many of these women, including Yang herself, were pregnant during the time of their abuse and assault. Any woman can tell you how vulnerable you feel at your OB-GYN’s office — but that feeling is multiplied by the hundreds when you are pregnant. By any number of measures, pregnancy
is one of the most risky and exposed times —
personally and statistically — of any woman’s life.

Yang said the doctor abused this position of power, calling her for more frequent and longer examinations. During one appointment when she was seven months pregnant, Yang said Hadden was getting ready to leave the examination room when he assaulted her.

“I was in the exam room, and I was dressed and ready to go,”
Yang told CNN. “Then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about, ‘I think you might need a C-section,’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved. I knew it was wrong. I knew I was being assaulted.”
Rightfully enraged by Hadden’s plea deal, now Yang and 31 other women are suing Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden alleging a “massive coverup” that “actively concealed, conspired and enabled” Hadden’s sexual exploitation,
which the suit alleges occurred as early as 1992-1993.

“It’s like getting slapped in the face and punched in the gut,” Yang said. “The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice, and there was no justice here.”

DA Cyrus Vance said in a statement to CNN: “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.”

But Yang also puts the blame on Columbia University, where both she and Andrew Yang are alumni, and which runs the medical facility where Hadden practiced.

Yang alleges that Columbia protected Hadden, and the evidence appears to back her up. According to CNN, six weeks before Yang says she was assaulted in 2012, police went to Hadden’s office and arrested him after a patient told police he had licked her vagina during an exam. But that arrest of Hadden’s was voided and he was allowed to return to work.

I cannot believe that a university with the stature of Columbia University would continue to let Hadden practice even after he was arrested for such a vile abuse of a patient, but then why should we be surprised? Perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations of Yang’s story is reading (again) about how powerful institutions protect sexual predators, from the DA’s office to Columbia.

“Can you imagine the audacity of a man who continues to do this after being arrested?” Yang stipulates. “It’s like he knew that he wouldn’t face any repercussions. That he was protected. That he wouldn’t be fired.”

The civil suit details a litany of sexual assault allegations against Hadden including forcing patients to strip naked, groping their breasts and bodies, digitally penetrating their vaginas and anuses, and “surreptitiously licking countless patients’ vaginas.”

“It’s a name-brand university behind this doctor, using their influence to protect themselves at the expense of the victims in the case,” Yang added.

Columbia and the hospital system are contesting the suit on procedural grounds, and a university spokeswoman responded to detailed questions from CNN about why Dr. Hadden had been allowed to return to work after his arrest by calling the allegations against him “abhorrent” and apologizing “to those whose trust was violated.”

Whether or not you support Andrew Yang for president, you cannot deny Evelyn Yang’s bravery. By sharing her courageous story, Yang is empowering so many other women to come forward with their stories, and in the era of #MeToo, Evelyn Yang is opening a new frontier when it comes to holding sexual predators accountable.

Evelyn Yang’s brave story of survival and search for justice deserves all of our attention.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of Evelyn for telling her story, and my heart breaks every time I think of what she had to experience,” Andrew Yang said in a statement. “She is my best friend and the bravest woman I know.”

After reading about her horrific story and unbelievable strength, I feel the same — Evelyn Yang may just be the bravest woman I know, too.