On 12 August, 2019 Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, held a glitzy invoice ceremony in his government mansion in Albany to mark the signing into regulation of new legislation designed to beef up sexual harassment protections for girls within the office.
With a flourish of a pen, Cuomo sought to seal his status throughout the Democratic occasion as a champion of gender-based rights.
“Let’s honor all the ladies who’ve endured this humiliation,” he said. “Let’s honor the ladies who’ve had the braveness to come back ahead to inform their tales – and let’s really change issues.”
The subsequent day, 13 August, the governor was being pushed to an occasion by a state police officer who he had handpicked to be a part of his safety element although she lacked the requisite expertise. He struck up a dialog with the officer, who’s anonymously recognized on this week’s explosive report from the New York lawyer normal into Cuomo’s violations of anti-discrimination legal guidelines as “Trooper #1”.
“Why don’t you put on a gown?” he requested her.
Surprised, and hoping to vary the topic, she replied that she would have nowhere to place her gun. Cuomo pressed on: “Why do you put on such darkish colours?”
After they arrived on the vacation spot, Trooper #1 was informed by a senior officer that what she had simply endured “stays within the truck”. She took that as an order to stay quiet.
The incident was one of many milder episodes of what Trooper #1 known as Cuomo’s “flirtatious” and “creepy” habits. On one other event he ran the palm of his hand throughout her abdomen, making her really feel “utterly violated”.
However coming a single day after he had signed the signature sexual harassment invoice into regulation, the encounter within the automobile highlighted a query on the coronary heart of the unfolding Cuomo affair. How might a number one Democratic politician who introduced himself because the standard-bearer of office equality and dignity have created what the AG’s report discovered was a “hostile work setting for girls” through which he sexually harassed a number of present and former staff over years?
And the way might he now be waging a one-man battle to discredit the 11 girls – Trooper #1 amongst them – who had the braveness to come back ahead to inform their tales towards him?
“It was perverse, it shocks the conscience,” mentioned Alessandra Biaggi, referring to Trooper #1’s experiences within the automobile. Biaggi has a particular stake on this narrative as she co-sponsored the anti-harassment invoice that Cuomo signed into regulation (although he pointedly declined to ask her to the ceremony, which she believes was out of spite following her earlier criticism of him).
“The day earlier than he was touting himself as somebody who cares about protections for girls towards gender-based discrimination,” Biaggi informed the Guardian. “The subsequent day he engaged in gender-based discrimination.”
Because the New York lawyer normal, Letitia James, launched her 168-page report on Tuesday with its central discovering that Cuomo violated federal and state sexual harassment legal guidelines, the governor has launched into a “masterclass in gaslighting”, Biaggi mentioned. “He has misplaced credibility, and so is attempting to undermine the credibility of all people else.”
A lot of Cuomo’s self-defense falls squarely into the usual playbook of highly effective males accused of sexual misconduct when their again is towards the wall. He has responded to the accounts of his 11 accusers with a potpourri of outright denial, appeals to failing reminiscence, recommendations that the ladies had “misunderstood” his actions, and darker insinuations that they and the investigators have been motivated by political or different animosity in direction of him.
“I now perceive there are generational or cultural views that frankly I hadn’t absolutely appreciated,” Cuomo mentioned in a filmed assertion posted shortly after the lawyer normal’s report was launched. The video features a montage of images of him hugging individuals, holding their heads in his fingers and kissing them on the cheek.
“I do it with everybody,” Cuomo says within the assertion. The remark is a particular try and belittle the testimony of one of many 11 girls, Anna Ruch, who testified that she felt “distraught and uncomfortable” at a 2019 wedding ceremony occasion when Cuomo, whom she had by no means met, cupped her face in his fingers and mentioned: “Might I kiss you?”
As CNN’s Chris Cillizza observed, “‘I do it with everybody’ is an fascinating protection of sexually inappropriate habits.”
In his defiant stand towards the seemingly overwhelming proof compiled by the lawyer normal – the investigation interviewed 179 witnesses and reviewed 74,000 objects together with emails and texts – Cuomo is searching for to talk over the heads of different politicians and attorneys and on to New Yorkers. In interesting to them, his eyes welling up occasionally within the video, he tries to show the world the wrong way up, portraying himself because the sufferer and his accusers because the witting or unwitting abusers.
“Governor Cuomo’s response is textbook abuser language,” mentioned Tarana Burke, the campaigner and survivor who gave #MeToo its title. “We see this time and time once more with abusers centering themselves when confronted with the chance to actually acknowledge the hurt that has been achieved.”
One of the incendiary parts of Cuomo’s response has been his rebuttal of the proof given by Charlotte Bennett, who labored as his government assistant in 2019-20. She testified that whereas working for him he requested her a succession of more and more intimate questions comparable to whether or not she had been with older males or whether or not she had physique piercings.
He as soon as informed her he wished to trip his bike into the mountains with a lady, she testified.
Beneath questioning by the lawyer normal’s workforce, Cuomo tried to clarify away that habits by saying he knew that Bennett had been a sufferer of sexual assault in her previous. Due to these experiences as a survivor, he informed the inquiry, Bennett “processed what she heard by her personal filter”, and that it was “typically not what was mentioned and never what was meant”.
The remark poses a direct problem to lots of the beneficial properties made lately on account of the #MeToo motion. Not solely are girls to not be believed after they come ahead with allegations of abuse, however girls who’ve suffered sexual abuse are particularly to not be believed given the “filter” by which they consequently understand issues.
In different phrases, girls who’ve endured sexual abuse and trauma should not able to rationalizing the reality.
Bennett had sturdy phrases to say about Cuomo’s comment. She informed ABC’s Good Morning America that he had insinuated that ladies like her “can’t inform the distinction between mentorship and management and sexual harassment itself, which isn’t solely insulting to me however to each survivor”.
These insulted survivors embody Biaggi. “I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and what I do know from my expertise is that due to it I can determine patterns of harassment and abuse extra clearly and rapidly. Survivors are extra credible, not much less,” she mentioned.
In addition they embody Tanya Selvaratnam. In Might 2018, she was one in every of 4 girls who accused Eric Schneiderman of bodily abuse. The then lawyer normal of New York state resigned hours after the New Yorker revealed the ladies’s tales.
Selvaratnam, a producer and author, informed the Guardian that Cuomo’s aspersions about Bennett’s perceptions as a survivor have been “singularly insidious. It’s so ridiculous. While you’ve skilled abuse you might be extra attuned to identify it and cease it”.
Cuomo’s technique in making an attempt to avoid wasting his political life is all too acquainted to Selvaratnam, significantly with regard to the denials and claims that acts have been consensual. “In my scenario, I consented to a relationship I didn’t consent to the abuse. In Cuomo’s case, the ladies consented to the job, they didn’t consent to being groped and harassed.”
She additionally sees an echo within the gulf between Cuomo and Schneiderman’s public personas and their private habits. “Perpetrators are of all stripes. We delude ourselves by considering that males on the left are advocates for girls’s rights and security as a result of finally it’s about energy and management. Highly effective males on the left suppose that their public good deeds will masks their private-facing nefarious actions.”
Selvaratnam mentioned that many individuals implored her to not come ahead as a result of Schneiderman, who like Cuomo positioned himself as a champion of ladies’s rights, was doing such good work. “However I felt it was essential to do the best factor and assist defend different girls from having the recollections that I now have.”
On the finish of a frantic week of Albany politics, Selvaratnam thinks that what issues now shouldn’t be Cuomo’s protestations a lot as precise outcomes. “No politician is so indispensable that if they’re abusive they will’t get replaced by anyone who might do a greater job,” she mentioned.
Burke agreed. “The investigation was a good course of. What ought to comply with is true accountability, and now we have but to see that.”