When I was a kid I found a Playboy magazine under the bed of a family friend. It contained an article explaining why women like to be raped. I remember it as I told my story of abuse at the hands of Eric Schneiderman, the former New York attorney general. In the middle of the night, he would wake me up and say, in a demonic voice, “You’re bad, bad girl, daddy is going to rape you.”
I was not prepared for my path to cross with an abuser. I was not prepared for the grooming, gaslighting and handling.
I was not prepared for my path to cross with an abuser. I was not prepared for the grooming, gaslighting and handling. Recently, I thanked Evan Rachel Wood and FKA twigs for sharing their stories of intimate partner violence, sometimes abbreviated as LPI. We were at different stages of life when we were mistreated. We are separated by generations, united by trauma. As we move forward, we continue to change the perception of what a victim looks like. Even fierce women are abused. The cycle of violence that permeates every aspect of our lives is an existential and, in many cases, deadly threat to our common humanity. Because of it, we become conditioned to accept violence. The stigma comes from secrecy.
I believe we are on the cusp of the next wave of #MeToo – one that exposes intimate violence in committed relationships. My situation was not that of women who encountered abusers like Harvey Weinstein in the workplace. I entered my relationship on purpose. I even felt sorry for Eric, for the pressures on him and the expectations that came with his power.
Unlike some of the abusers exposed by the Me Too movement, Eric was a serial monogamist. He didn’t have to abuse dozens or hundreds of women to satisfy his thirst for power. He didn’t need a different woman to abuse every day. He had me for almost a year.
As a child, I had witnessed domestic violence in my home: my father beat my mother. I never thought I would become a victim. A friend said that my abuse shocked him because he saw me as smart and independent and an advocate for women’s rights and safety. But when I first met Eric, I was safe from my job and my friendships, but weakened from romance. I was recovering from a series of health problems (multiple miscarriages and cancer) and then divorced. I was ripe for the breakup. It was the perfect storm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About 1 in 4 women and almost 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and / or stalking by an intimate partner during their life and have reported some form of IPV impacting. “In addition, approximately 11 million women and 5 million men who reported experiencing such violence did so before the age of 18.
Eric often said: “Don’t assume anything”. He also said: “Trust no one”. In my relationship with Eric, I went through the classic stages which structure conjugal violence, stages that many victims go through: trapping, isolation, control, degradation and abuse. My story is a testament to what survivors of intimate partner violence experience and how long it takes to recognize and name the violence.
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed,” I told myself every day for the months before my story went public. I decided to come forward after realizing that I was part of a role model. It wasn’t just my story; other women shared it. And I had to tell it to prevent others from becoming their story.
As I spoke, I was determined to present my own demeanor, demeaning as the details are. I was making myself vulnerable in a way that I didn’t want. It would have been much easier to move on and do nothing; I would have preferred by far to continue my life and not get caught up in the mess of showing up. But if there was ever a moment to come, I saw, this was the moment, in the context of Me Too and Time’s Up.
Even though I didn’t have children, I worried about the impact that introducing myself would have on my extended family, career and reputation. Once my story was published I couldn’t take it back and I couldn’t predict how my life would change. I kept reminding myself that my friends and my job were strong and would always be there for me. A few people could walk away, and that would be OK.
In fact, a handful of my friends told me not to do anything, but they were outnumbered by those who told me I knew what to do. When Me Too’s story was written, I couldn’t live with the fear of protecting other women. The news cycle passed, and then no one would care. In a few years, no one will remember Eric’s name.
After my story became public, I heard journalist friends say that powerful women, so called feminists, were trying to discredit me.
Shortly before The New Yorker story came out, I spoke with a friend who spoke about how Eric was doing an important job as an attorney general. She wondered aloud if this was the right time to “expose” it. But I knew for sure that it was.
Yet after my story became public, I heard journalist friends say that powerful women, so-called feminists, were trying to discredit me. Even though I was disturbed, I was not surprised. Their power was closely tied to that of Eric; he was their lead to power. But the New Yorker had taken great care to investigate the story; there were even more women with similar stories who were too scared to have their experiences included.
It is scary to talk about intimate partner violence because there are usually only two witnesses, the perpetrator and the victim. It’s “he said, she said.” But in my case, multiple victims were interviewed independently of each other with strangely similar stories. Clarity emerged.
I believe most people want justice, safety and bodily autonomy – all of which include an end to intimate violence. But some keep the status quo. As I read article after article on intimate partner violence for my book, it became clear that we need a civil war – between feminists and patriarchs. Those on the feminist side are not just women, and those on the patriarch’s side are not just men. This war will lead to one of two possible outcomes: a less secure world for women or a more secure world for women, especially women of color. I am fighting for the latter.
I wish I hadn’t remembered having been a victim myself. No one wants such memories. But I feel that somehow the universe intended to have me meet Eric Schneiderman and ultimately end a cycle with his intimate partners that had lasted for a long time.
In “When Women Were Birds”, Terry Tempest Williams quoted poet Muriel Rukeyser:
What would happen if a woman told the truth about her life?
The world would be open.
Let’s divide the world together.
Editor’s Note: When contacted by NBC News for comment, Eric Schneiderman referred to his previous statement: “I accept full responsibility for my conduct in dealing with my accusers and the impact this has had on them. After spending time in a drug rehab center, I embark on a lifelong healing journey and make amends to those I have hurt. I apologize for any pain I have caused and I apologize to the people of New York State for disappointing them after putting their trust in me. “