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'Exposed' podcast charts gynecologist's abuse and Columbia University's failure to stop it

Sexual assault survivors Amy Yoney, right, and Laurie Kanyok, left, embrace after speaking to members of the media during a break in sentencing proceedings for convicted sex offender Robert Hadden outside Federal Court in New York. The former obstetrician was convicted of sexually abusing multiple patients over several decades. (John Minchillo/AP)
Sexual assault survivors Amy Yoney, right, and Laurie Kanyok, left, embrace after speaking to members of the media during a break in sentencing proceedings for convicted sex offender Robert Hadden outside Federal Court in New York. The former obstetrician was convicted of sexually abusing multiple patients over several decades. (John Minchillo/AP)

Editor’s note: This segment was rebroadcast on March 13, 2024. Click here for that audio. This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.

Dating back to the 1990s, former gynecologist and obstetrician Robert Hadden sexually assaulted hundreds, maybe even thousands, of patients during his time working at Columbia University.

Even when survivors of his abuse came forward with their stories — both to police and the university — Hadden continued practicing, giving him access to more patients to victimize.

Hadden practiced from 1997 to 2012, but wasn’t convicted and sentenced until 2023. He’s now serving a decades-long prison sentence.

A recent ProPublica report centered the stories of his victims and explored the way Columbia attempted to keep Hadden’s behavior under wraps. Laura Beil, who reported the story with Bianca Fortis, now hosts a podcast on the topic called “Exposed: Cover-Up at Columbia University.”

The podcast has been nominated for multiple categories in this year’s Ambies, the prestigious awards from The Podcast Academy. “Exposed” is nominated for Podcast of the Year, Best Society and Culture Podcast, and Best Scriptwriting for Nonfiction.

In the podcast, Beil tells the story of Laurie Kanyok who gave birth to a baby in 2012 and returned to Hadden’s office on a Friday after for postnatal care. When a nurse working with him left the room, Hadden assaulted Kanyok.

“He had a means that he used commonly of manipulating the situation where he could be alone in the room,” Beil says. “Although that said, there were plenty of times he assaulted women with a chaperone in the room.”

Kanyok texted her boyfriend when it happened, and he called the police. Officers arrested Hadden after taking Kanyok’s statement that same day. But by Monday, he was back to performing his usual clinical duties. The only response from Columbia was a letter to Hadden mandating he be chaperoned by another person while performing exams.

“There’s a lot in the podcast about decisions that Columbia made,” Beil says, “but to me, that is the single most inexplicable decision in a series of inexplicable decisions: to allow someone who was arrested for sexual assault to go right back to work.”

As more accusations started to surface, the Manhattan district attorney picked up the case, culminating in a deal being made with Columbia where Hadden would receive no prison time. Beil notes that then-Assistant District Attorney Laura Millendorf supported believing the women coming forward.

“She was the first person to realize the scope of Hadden’s crimes. She was coming across victims going back to the [1990s],” Beil says. “Essentially we know now that his career was basically a 25-year crime spree. He was probably the most prolific sexual predator in New York history.”

But Millendorf was in the minority of believing the women’s accounts over Hadden’s. And Columbia was a contributing factor to that disbelief. Over the course of the ProPublica investigation, Beil says her team uncovered instances of accusations being dismissed within Columbia and the university failing to turn over evidence to the District Attorney.

Eight years after Kanyok’s report, the case started to pick up momentum again when Evelyn Yang came forward in 2020 with accusations of sexual assault against Hadden back in 2012 after he was allowed to return to work following his arrest. Yang is married to 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and told her story publicly on CNN after keeping it secret for years.

“[Yang] wanted women to know that they were not alone,” Beil says. “She realized that if she used her platform that she had to talk about this case, it might help other women.”

When Yang’s interview aired nationwide, droves of other survivors of Hadden’s abuse came forward with devastatingly similar accounts to Yang’s and Kanyok’s. It got the attention of the federal government, and Hadden was arrested in 2020. He received a sentence of 20 years in July 2023.

By the end of her grueling investigation, Beil says she is awed by the strength and vulnerability of the suvivors of sexual assault who came forward.

“My takeaway is just the gratitude that I have for them talking to us and telling us their stories and trusting us with their stories,” Beil says. “because this whole project could not have happened without them.”


Thomas Danielian produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.