Schneiderman case is textbook domestic abuse, family justice advocate says

May 9, 2018

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is the latest high-profile male to face accusations of sexual misconduct during the #MeToo era. An article published in The New Yorker Monday night cited four women alleging a pattern of physical and verbal abuse.

Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of Buffalo’s Family Justice Center, said she was shocked by the revelations of Schneiderman’s alleged abusive behavior.

“I went from impressed and appreciative to stunningly horrified and appalled,” Murphy said. “As I read further into the report what struck me was all perpetrators are playing out of the same handbook, it’s like someone drafted a playbook on how to abuse.”

Two women spoke on record to The New Yorker, detailing repeated instances of abuse during their romantic relationships with the state’s former top legal official. Schneiderman denies the accusations, but officially resigned from his position Tuesday.

Family Justice Center Executive Director Mary Travers Murphy says the allegations against Eric Schneiderman display a pattern typical of abusers.
Credit File photo

“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me," he said in a statement. "While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office's work at this critical time.”

Murphy, whose organization offers services to address offender accountability, safety, healing and abuse prevention. says some victims are manipulated by their abusers into staying silent. She said abusers will make threats or switch their personalities to prevent their victim from leaving.

“We know that the overwhelming emotion on the part of victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence are shame and embarrassment and that trumps fear,” Murphy said. “Abusers assert dominance by instilling fear in their victims. [They say things like] ‘If you leave I’ll kill you,’ or ‘If you leave, I’ll kill the kids,’ or another highly effective tool in the toolbox of the abuser, ‘If you leave, I’ll kill myself.’”

In the article, Schneiderman's accusers said they were threatened to stay silent, with the attorney general using his position as the state's top cop to intimidate them.

Murphy recommends anyone who is experiencing abuse to reach out for help immediately. The Justice Center offers a wallet-sized booklet of red flags that can help identify the warning signs of abuse.

“When you reach out for help to skilled, experienced, talented, passionate, highly educated domestic violence advocates, you’re going to be believed,” Murphy said. “You’re going to get a safety plan and you can get a map for getting out safely, for healing the trauma, and moving, someday hopefully, to a healthy relationship.”

Murphy said during the current socio-political climate, social-justice movement likes #MeToo have helped encourage and inspire men and women who have been abused to seek help. Still, she said abusers are extremely smart and have control over their victims.

“On average a victim will return to her or his abuser seven to eight times. They just want that angel they fell in love with to be there 24/7 not understanding the angel is the fake, the monster is the real person but the ability to morph back into that angel keeps them coming back.”

As the state’s top legal officer, Schneiderman had been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and involved himself in many women’s causes, including the #MeToo movement. In February, he championed a civil rights lawsuit against producer Harvey Weinstein, his brother Robert Weinstein and The Weinstein Company.

Following the allegations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement: “No one is above the law, including New York's top legal officer.” On Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced an investigation into the allegations against Schneiderman.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this report.