When former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman fought to pass laws that made strangulation a crime for the first time in the state, he paved the way for his own potential criminal charges.
Multiple women said in an article published Monday by The New Yorker that Schneiderman, 63, had hit, slapped, and choked them. Within hours of the article coming out, Schneiderman resigned, although he said the behavior was part of consensual role-play. It’s unclear whether the AG (since 2010) made any of these women unconscious when he allegedly choked them, but even having “an intent to impede breathing” could land him with a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a year in prison under the very laws he championed in 2010, legal and domestic violence experts told VICE News.
“Everything that he’s done is punishable by mandatory jail time — not possible, mandatory,” Jeffrey Lichtman, a lawyer for 27 years with expertise in domestic violence in New York State, told VICE News. “I’m appalled at the hypocrisy of Eric Schneiderman.”
Four women with whom Schneiderman had romantic relationships or encounters between 2013 and 2017 publicly said that he “repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent,” according to The New Yorker. Two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, both progressive feminists who live in Manhattan, spoke to the magazine on the record.
Manning Barish, who was dating Schneiderman in 2013, told the New Yorker about one particularly harrowing incident in great detail. She said:
All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear. It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fiber, I felt I was being beaten by a man.
“Everything that he’s done is punishable by mandatory jail time — not possible, mandatory."
In 2010, three years before he started dating Manning Barish, Schneiderman introduced the Strangulation Prevention Act as a state senator, to address domestic violence issues. The bill would make strangulation into unconsciousness a violent felony and choking without causing unconsciousness or physical injury a lower-level felony. And even the “intent to impede breathing,” without specifically choking, would be a misdemeanor under the laws.
“The time to criminalize this horrific form of abuse is now,” Schneiderman said at the time. “I am proud of the overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation. It sends a strong message that we must do everything in our power to ensure that no one is immune from accountability for committing such a heinous crime.”
The Strangulation Prevention Act laid out all of the various offenses for which someone can be charged for strangulation in the state of New York — all the way from a Class A misdemeanor to a violent felony, Connie Neal, the executive director of the nonprofit New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told VICE News.
As a result, about 1,000 strangulation arrests are made every month, according to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.
“That law really shifted a lot of thinking,” Neal said, adding that the act created specific offenses to help law enforcement officers charge perpetrators of domestic violence.
Despite his prominent role in the legislation, Schneiderman defended himself Monday night by saying the women gave him their consent to choke them; it was all role-play, he explained.
“In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” he said in a statement to The New Yorker. “I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
But claiming consent won't blur the lines in any eventual prosecution, according to Lichtman.
“The claim of consent, frankly, is just a claim, when you have the victims claiming that there was no consent,” Lichtman said. “I don’t believe that consenting to being choked or injured is any defense.”
Neal added that with other crimes, like murder, manslaughter, and harassment, consent isn’t an issue — and that in some cases, strangulation is attempted homicide. Some studies indicate that “the odds of homicide are almost ten times more likely if there was a prior attempt to strangle,” according to New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
“In many ways, it’s implied that a person did not give consent for something to rise to the level of a crime,” Neal said. “We’re wanting to take strangulation at what it really is, means, and implies. It is forcing or restricting someone’s ability to breathe or their blood flow. It has very serious implications.”
Cover image: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Town Hall in New York on June 16, 2017. (Sipa via AP Images)