Sex abuse survivors want Columbia University investigated after handling of convicted OBGYN

More than 100 former patients of an ex-Columbia University gynecologist now in prison for sex abuse crimes are calling on state officials to investigate the Ivy League school’s role in the case.

In a letter sent Monday and shared exclusively with USA TODAY, 116 former patients of Robert Hadden urged New York attorney general Letitia James to open an inquiry into what they call an “institutional failure” to report and properly look into allegations of his conduct decades ago.

They sent the letter just days after faculty, students and staff at Columbia unanimously approved a proposal to hire an external law firm to conduct an investigation into the university’s response to Hadden’s conduct.

“While Hadden finally is being held accountable for his crimes, Columbia continues to shirk its own responsibility,” the letter says. One of the signatories is Evelyn Yang, a victim advocate and the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. She has spoken publicly for years about the abuse she says she experienced while a patient of Hadden’s in 2012. 

The victims call on James to investigate what they refer to as Columbia’s “intimidation and retaliatory tactics” against them, as well as the university’s interactions with local law enforcement agencies about the Hadden case. Hadden also saw patients at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Earlier this year, a Manhattan jury convicted Hadden of sex trafficking after prosecutors alleged he molested dozens of patients between 1993 and 2012. A judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison. 

Robert Hadden: Gynecologist convicted of sexually abusing dozens of patients faces 20 years in prison

The letter is the latest escalation in a case that has long been a black eye on the Ivy League institution, drawing parallels to another scandal that gripped the nation involving former U.S. Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, who worked at Michigan State University. In recent months, the controversy at Columbia has drawn renewed scrutiny − including from state legislators − after ProPublica reported new details in the saga, and as a legal deadline to file civil claims against Hadden and the university draws closer. 

Last month, hundreds of former patients filed a new lawsuit against Hadden and Columbia seeking compensation to make up for the abuse they say they faced. The fresh wave of litigation comes as New York residents face a Nov. 23 cutoff to file civil sexual abuse claims outside of the typical statute of limitations, which Gov. Kathy Hochul waived last year for a 12-month period as part of a new state law. That law, the Adult Survivors Act, was pushed through in large part by Hadden survivors, including some of the letter’s signatories. 

Faculty, students vote to hire law firm to investigate failings

The letter says Columbia has not conducted an internal investigation into how the abuse was allowed to continue, but the university’s governing body on Friday unanimously passed a resolution to hire an external law firm to independently review the Hadden case. The resolution, which passed 64-0, requires the firm to produce a report to be delivered in full to the board of trustees.

The proposal doesn’t include a specific timeline for when that could happen, nor does it clarify which law firm might look into the matter.

“This resolution suggests that apologies and promises for better future practices are not enough,” said Susan Witte, a professor of social work at Columbia, in remarks during the meeting Friday. “We demand that the University hold to account those in positions of authority when the Hadden events took place.” 

Two of Columbia’s top administrators, both of whom were not in their current roles as president and dean of the medical school when the alleged abuse happened, expressed solidarity with the victims in a September statement. They pledged to “do everything possible” to ensure the safety of students, staff and patients. 

Spokespeople for Columbia did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The New York attorney general’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.