The following piece contains explicit descriptions of sexual abuse allegations that may be disturbing to some readers.
(CNN)Emilia Heckman trusted Dr. Robert Hadden.
A fashion model in her late 20s, she found herself chatting casually about her family and career with the OB-GYN at Columbia University’s prestigious hospital system, who showed her photos of his wife and daughters. She could catch him for appointments around her erratic schedule. She received free birth control from him.
“I felt comfortable asking him any questions I had about my health,” Heckman, now 36, said in an interview with CNN. “He was so open.”
But every once in a while, according to her interview and court documents, he would startle her with an inappropriate question or comment, asking about the quality of her sex life, or saying, “Your boyfriend is so lucky to have you.”
She says the comments also came during exams: “He would be crazy to lose you.” “You’re perfection.”
Heckman said it took a turn from inappropriate to unacceptable in 2012.
As often, Heckman was the last patient of the day. Hadden told the nurse she could go home; she left reluctantly, looking troubled, Heckman said.
Now it was just Hadden and Heckman, whose feet were in the stirrups and legs were draped. Hadden dipped his head out of view and licked her, she said.
“At first it was gloves on, and all of that,” Heckman said. “And then it transitioned to no gloves, a tongue and a beard. … And I recoiled.”
She said she abruptly stepped off the exam table, got dressed, left the office and never returned.
Heckman said she would later learn that she wasn’t the only one.
Three years later, in 2015, she came across a news story about how Hadden stood accused in a sex-abuse case involving six of his patients. Their allegations had mirrored hers: that Hadden had fondled and sexually assaulted them during examinations
, after nurses had left the room. The next year, he pleaded guilty to two counts: criminal sexual act in the third degree and forcible touching.
It seemed to be case closed.
But this past January, Evelyn Yang, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, came forward in an exclusive CNN interview
, saying that she, too, was sexually abused by Hadden. Suddenly the terms of the plea deal sparked fresh outrage: Hadden had surrendered his medical license, but received no prison time, probation or community service.
A torrent of critics blasted the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for what they believe to be a light sentence.
Since Yang’s interview, nearly 40 new Hadden accusers have brought their allegations to attorney Anthony DiPietro, who filed a civil suit against Hadden and Columbia University in 2019. DiPietro says he plans to add them to the civil suit, which would bring the total number of plaintiffs to about 70. Two of the plaintiffs were minors — ages 15 and 16 — at the time of the alleged abuse, he said.
Sexual assault survivors and their supporters held a protest
in January saying the Hadden case proves Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has failed in protecting victims. The New York City Council’s women’s caucus called for Vance’s resignation, saying the Hadden plea deal fits a pattern of lenience
by the DA towards wealthy, white men.
Vance has refused CNN’s multiple request for interviews. After CNN notified the office of Evelyn Yang’s public allegations last month, Vance said in a statement, “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,” Vance said.
His office has encouraged any survivors to call the DA’s sex crimes unit.
Heckman is among dozens of new accusers who want Hadden to be prosecuted again; she says she plans to present her case to the DA directly.
“I want justice served,” said Heckman. “He’s raped, molested all these women and nothing’s been done and that makes me furious.”
The 61-year-old Hadden has denied the assault allegations in court documents, aside from the two counts to which he pleaded guilty. CNN reached out to Hadden and the attorney who represented him in the civil case; those efforts were unsuccessful.
“I’m thinking to myself … I want his hands off of me.”
One of the new accusers is Jessica Chambers, now a substitute elementary-school teacher in Wyoming.
Chambers was scrolling through her phone last month when she came across the news story about Yang. At the sight of a photo of Hadden in court, she said, her stomach knotted.
“I was like, ‘Holy sh*t,'” she said.
Though she had seen nurse practitioners at Planned Parenthood, Chambers had never had a gynecological exam when she first stepped into Hadden’s office in 2004. She was a 23-year-old student at the City College of New York.
Her first impression: “He was very present. With some doctors, they just get you in and out. (But) he was just very there with you. … He was very friendly.”
Chambers said two things initially struck her as odd during the exam, for which a chaperone was present: Hadden was chatty, and the procedure seemed to go on and on.
“He had his fingers inside of me — I couldn’t see if he was wearing gloves,” she said. “And he had an extended conversation with me while he had his fingers inside of me. … I remember wanting to get out of that position.”
Chambers said they talked about how she’d just broken up with her boyfriend. She remembers Hadden asking her if she was able to climax, “and how was I able to climax,” she said.
“I’m thinking it’s very weird,” she said. But “he’s a doctor, we’re in Columbia — clearly what’s going on here must be normal and natural.”
At some point, she said — while she was sitting on the exam table, and after the chaperone had left — he grabbed her leg.
“There was an opening,” she said. “Maybe I asked a question, and the question was license to physically show me.”
“He had me somewhat stuck,” she said, adding that she felt uncomfortable, but “I didn’t know whether it was just me being naive and I didn’t want to do anything that would be weird.”
Hadden, she said, began explaining how arousal happens while extensively touching her vagina — this time with ungloved hands.
“I mean now, in hindsight, I’m like, he was trying to arouse me while talking to me — under the guise of education,” Chambers said. “I’m thinking to myse