Viewpoint: Cuomo scandal a Greek tragedy for women’s rights leader

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

I’m really sick of every breathless new EXCLUSIVE, which basically recites the same few allegations of sexual “harassment” – unwanted, suggestive, flirtatious remark – but hardly the continuing campaign that one would think “harassment” (or “grooming”) implies. No one has charged Gov. Cuomo with extorting sexual favors, threatening anyone, or physically abusing or raping anyone.

A hug and a request for a kiss at a wedding? If Cuomo really thought he was doing something wrong, would he do it in front of everyone? Doesn’t “harassment” imply  ongoing abuse? Unless I have missed something, none of the five women have accused him of doing more than making a suggestive remark or a one-time encounter.

Yes, women have to be heard, taken seriously, but automatically believed? Does every inappropriate remark or gesture carry the same level of harm? It is curious that the case against Trump’s incitement of insurrection that resulted in five deaths hung largely on establishing Trump’s “intent” (which was clearly demonstrated, yet he was acquitted). And George Floyd’s accused murderer gets to challenge the degree of murder he is being charged with.

And just as rape victims should not be attacked for how they dressed or prior behavior, it is inappropriate to pile on to Cuomo the vendettas of his bullying, hard-elbows style of politics, with politicians taking advantage of the #MeToo movement or trapped on their own moral high ground.

More significantly, there should be different, appropriate degrees of what is merely “inappropriate” behavior vs. “sexual harassment” and “sexual abuse,” and the appropriate remedies for accountability. Only the most egregious murderers get the death penalty. And even the most egregious murderers have the right to trial.

Women’s rights were significantly undermined during Trump and Republican rule and are continuing to be assaulted under a new wave of laws aimed at overturning a woman’s reproductive self-determination or ability to vote.

This is why it is so ironic – to the point of Greek tragedy – that Cuomo is being torn down by allegations of sexual harassment, when he has been the strongest leader – at the state and national level – for advancing women’s rights with a record of action, not just campaign slogans and wishes. In fact, with women’s reproductive rights under massive assault to chip away or repeal Roe v. Wade entirely, Cuomo in 2019 signed The Reproductive Health Act into state law and took steps to enshrine the principles of Roe v. Wade into the state Constitution to protect the right to abortion in New York for good. It was a key component of his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda.

Let me refresh your memory:

Cuomo pushed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to add sex as a protected class to Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution.

His 2019 accomplishments also included pay equity legislation, extending the statute of limitations for rape in the second-degree and third-degree; insurance coverage for contraceptives, medically necessary abortion services, and fertility treatments; protections for pregnant women and access to telehealth; greater access to in vitro fertilization; programs to reduce maternal mortality and racial disparities and – it seems ironic now – new workplace harassment protections.

He advanced the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act to include more meaningful sentence reductions and to encompass crimes committed not only against, but also at the behest of, abusers.

Established a new model for domestic violence prevention, including “no strings attached” to receive emergency services like a safe place to shelter and improving the system for delivering services.

Outlawed revenge pornography, which prohibited unlawful publication of sexual materials consensually shared when the person had a reasonable expectation that such material would not be disclosed and provided victims with a new ability to remove the images from a website along with money damages for the unlawful publication.

Removed gaps in Rape Shield Law

Invested in New York’s Child Care Infrastructure

In response to the special challenges of COVID-19 in 2020, New York passed groundbreaking policies, including paid sick leave, stepped-up vigilance against domestic violence and efforts to address maternal mortality.

And in the early stages of the pandemic, the New York State Council on Women and Girls quickly established two critical COVID-19 task forces on Domestic Violence and Maternal Healthcare to ensure women’s health and safety were prioritized.

Out of that came:

Improved response to domestic violence by implementing an innovative, survivor-centered service delivery system, including a new 24/7 text and chat line for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence; a housing navigator pilot to enhance housing options for survivors; the creation of a statewide data collection system; new training and resources for those working with incarcerated populations and immigrants; a listening tour to speak directly with survivors regarding their needs; and enhanced communication regarding shelter availability.

Addressing maternal mortality: the COVID-19 maternity task force examined the best approach to authorizing and certifying additional dedicated birthing centers in an effort to support pregnant people and reduce the patient load in stressed hospitals amid the ongoing pandemic.

Also in 2020:

Removal of guns from domestic abusers

Elimination of gender-based (“Pink Tax”) pricing discrimination

Legalization of gestational surrogacy

Protection of family planning and reproductive health services: New York launched an exclusively state-funded family planning program, necessary since Trump issued regulations that made New York ineligible for federal funding.

Pay equity at state and local authorities

Equitable distribution of assets on divorce proceedings: Judges must consider domestic violence and its impact in determining equitable distribution of marital property so victims can remain financially secure after leaving their abuser.

I am wondering which politician, which elected official anywhere in the country has accomplished as much for women’s rights or who will have the will or the skill after Cuomo.

And if you are going to reach back 25 years to dredge up every inappropriate remark, gesture or slight, that should be taken into account as well.

There also seems to be an ageism factor – Baby Boomer women seem much less upset by these allegations than younger, hyper-sensitive women who have grown up in a different culture. Cuomo (and Biden) are part of that generation’s culture.

The #MeToo movement, a power play of its own, has gone too far and given cover or created undue pressure on politicians. But if you take it to its logical end, a more successful man could never initiate a relationship with a woman of more modest means. Think about that and how it would perpetuate classism.

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