Editor’s warning: Mentions of sexual assault 

In July, former Columbia OB-GYN Robert Hadden was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on four counts after hundreds of former patients came forward with accounts of sexual abuse at his hands. On Wednesday, protestors demanded that Columbia take responsibility for its failure to cooperate with investigators in Hadden’s case, or to notify his victims.

Protesters gathered at President Minouche Shafik’s Investiture ceremony this Wednesday, September 4, donned in white coats resembling those of a medical doctor. Chanting “You protected Robert Hadden,” the crowd made their goal clear: to demand that Columbia take public responsibility for its alleged involvement in enabling and covering up the crimes of a serial sexual assaulter who worked as an OB-GYN at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).

Wednesday’s protesters alleged that Columbia failed to protect patients from Hadden and to accept responsibility for Hadden’s crimes. On Broadway between West 114th and 116th Streets, protesters handed out flyers that read “Notify patients now” and “End the cover-up.” The flyers included links to a damning ProPublica exposé, published September 12, which alleged the University “was deeply involved in containing, deflecting and distancing itself from the scandal at every step.” Bwog has reached out to Columbia for comment on the protest.

Flier handed out on Broadway on October 4 by protestors, reading “#ColumbiaExposed” and “Columbia protected a predator OBGYN for 25 years.”

For 25 years, Dr. Robert Hadden worked at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), long enough to establish rapport and trust in the Columbia community. Over the decades, he is alleged to have sexually assaulted hundreds of students, faculty, and community members who came to CUIMC to seek gynecologic care. Earlier this year, Hadden was sentenced for charges related to four of these women. 

Allegations against Hadden first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2012, when a patient called 911 after an assault and Hadden was arrested. When Hadden was released from custody, CUIMC allowed him to practice for another five weeks, during which time he allegedly assaulted at least eight additional patients. 

As reported in ProPublica, Columbia has yet to inform Hadden’s former patients that he has been convicted as a sex offender. Further, in 2012, the University failed to follow subpoenas to hand over evidence in a criminal investigation against Hadden, and they did not inform the District Attorney’s office when additional patients came forward with claims of abuse. 

The University’s conduct during the case prompted a criminal investigation into both Columbia and CUIMC by the DA’s office, which found that the University may have intended to destroy relevant evidence, including emails from Hadden and other past employees. Columbia has refuted the claim that it ever intended to destroy evidence.

After his initial 2012 arrest and subsequent return to practice, Hadden was indicted in 2012 for assaulting six of his patients dating from 1993 to 2012. The number of patients who have accused Hadden of sexual abuse has now grown to over 200. According to former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the University’s role in obstructing the investigation was so significant that it factored into the DA office’s decision to accept a 2016 plea deal which allowed Hadden to avoid prison time. After years of increasing public attention in the case, Hadden was again arrested in 2020 and sentenced to 20 years in prison this July.

In a brief statement released September 18, a week after the publication of the ProPublica article, newly-appointed President Shafik and CUIMC CEO Katrina Armstrong offered their “deepest apologies to all [Hadden’s] victims and their loved ones,” and stated that the University “has worked to enhance the policies and processes in place to afford our patients a safe environment of care.” The statement did not directly address ProPublica’s allegations that Columbia had played an active role in ignoring the crisis and enabling Hadden’s alleged and confirmed assaults. 

On September 20, two of Hadden’s victims, Maria Hoeschetter and Evelyn Yang, released a statement of their own, calling Shafik’s response “self-serving propaganda” and reiterating calls for the University to notify Hadden’s patients of his crimes. 

On Tuesday, a new lawsuit was filed against Columbia University and the CUIMC on behalf of 301 of Hadden’s survivors. The suit was filed under the Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily overrides New York’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse suits, creating a one-year window for sexual assault survivors who were adults during their abuse to bring lawsuits regardless of when the abuse took place. 

In particular, this suit alleges that Columbia “willingly enabled, aided, abetted, concealed and repeatedly covered up” Hadden’s crimes. CUIMC and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital have already paid settlements topping $236 million in previous civil claims brought by over 200 former patients, but the University has admitted no fault in these suits. 

The new lawsuit alleges that Columbia knew of Hadden’s abuses as early as 1994 and accuses the University of “enabling and aiding [Hadden] in becoming the most prolific serial sexual predator in New York State history.” Attorney Anthony DiPietro stated that one of the goals of the suit, which could amount to up to $1 billion in settlements, is to force Columbia to admit its complicity in Hadden’s crimes. DiPietro has also filed a petition to order Columbia “to notify all of Columbia’s patients that they were exposed to a sexual predator.” 

Columbia’s limited response stands out amongst sexual assault scandals at other institutions. According to the ProPublica report, C.L. Max Nikias, the President of the University of Southern California, resigned in 2018 after accusations that USC failed to act on information about a staff gynecologist’s abuse. After abuses by Robert Anderson, an athletics department doctor at the University of Michigan, an investigation was commissioned by the University itself to seek details of the abuse. 

At Michigan State University, two presidents—President Lou Anna Simon and Interim President John Engler—resigned over the aftermath of assault allegations against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Their departures came in addition to a number of resignations from campus officials and administrators, including the school’s athletics director, head gymnastics coach, school doctor, and Dean of Osteopathic Medicine. 

After over a decade of public knowledge of Hadden’s assaults—and three months after his conviction—Columbia has yet to notify all of his patients of his crimes. On November 23, the window to file a case against Hadden under the Adult Survivor Act will close and any additional victims unaware of the existing allegations against Hadden will lose power in the case. As the deadline approaches, onlookers are waiting to see whether the University will respond to the demands of survivors.

A Columbia spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Staff Writers Elaine Ryan and Emily Yi contributed to the reporting of this article.

Protest fliers via Author

Header image via Bwog Staff