As the New York Adult Survivors Act Nears Expiration, Survivors of Dr. Robert Hadden Are Left in the Dark

Contacting patients is a simple and effective step to ensure they don’t miss a critical window to file suit against an abuser. It is every institution’s responsibility to do this in a timely manner.

Medical students and survivors of sexual assault by former Columbia University doctor Robert Hadden, gather in protest during inauguration for the new university president on Oct. 4, 2023. (Katherine Franke / X)

The New York Adult Survivors Act (ASA) expires on Nov. 23, 2023—yet the tens of thousands of patients of Dr. Robert Hadden have not been notified of his history of sexually assaulting women in his gynecology practice. Unless Columbia University urgently notifies these patients, survivors may miss the window to file civil suits.

Hadden, a former Manhattan gynecologist, was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for luring four patients across state lines to sexually assault them in his office.

Last year, sexual assault survivors—including former Hadden patient Evelyn Yang—pushed for passage of the ASA so people could file civil suits past the statutes of limitations. Importantly, the ASA allows survivors to file suits not only against abusers, but also against institutions that actively shielded predators from consequences.

The university has, thus far, settled cases with 226 former patients for a total of $237 million. Another suit, with over 300 additional survivors, was recently filed.

Columbia’s communication failure means many more survivors will likely miss out on the rare opportunity to file suit before the one-year look-back window of the ASA expires. Presumably and perhaps predictably, Columbia seems reticent to open themselves up to further suits.

Refusing to notify patients is an act of institutional betrayal, loosely defined as any time an institution harms those who depend on it. Institutional betrayal is common, research by Dr. Jennifer Freyd and colleagues shows, and its negative impact exacerbates the damage survivors experience from the sexual assault itself.

One of the most commonly discussed patterns of institutional betrayal, though certainly not the only one, is DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender), where an institution treats victims as the problem.

Freyd said the antidote to institutional betrayal is institutional courage—which according to the Center for Institutional Courage is “an institution’s commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost.” One of the key steps institutions can take to act with courage is transparency.

As physicians and gender scholars at Stanford University, we know it takes courage to change the structures that facilitate sexual harassment and assault. Physicians who sexually abuse patients take advantage of inherent power dynamics and gender norms, gaslighting women into believing nothing untoward took place or that they are the lone, unreasonable patient who felt uncomfortable.


This is all extremely disturbing, but honestly I am not surprised by what he did or the alleged actions of his employer. I am grateful to all the patients who bravely came forward to ensure accountability in this case. Unlike other cases of SA at universities (think Michigan State or USC), in this case no one has resigned or been charged. #hadden #roberthadden #columbia

♬ original sound – Dr. Arghavan Salles

Many of Hadden’s patients may not know that the exams they endured were unnecessary and abusive.

Some of his former patients described his grooming techniques in a recent ProPublica article. Robyn Bass Lavender, who sought treatment from him from 1992 to 2005, said, “He was such an expert groomer. I trusted him more than I’ve trusted almost anybody.”

Another patient, Tobi Pilavin-Weinstein, who saw him from 1992 to 1994, said, “It’s emotional abuse when your predator is not scary or seemingly dangerous because your guard is down. You squash your instincts.”

Yet, Columbia University has not taken the simple step of notifying Hadden’s former patients.

Notification is not only possible but should be considered best practice for a hospital system hoping to regain public trust in the aftermath of physician sexual assault.

One positive counterexample recently took place nearby, in Boston. When Brigham and Women’s Hospital determined rheumatologist Dr. Derrick Todd performed inappropriate pelvic and breast exams, the institution began reaching out to current and former patients to ensure they knew their rights and directed them to law enforcement. By doing this, they accumulated multiple reports that confirmed his misconduct and led to his dismissal.

Contacting patients is a simple and effective step to ensure they don’t miss a critical window to file suit against an abuser. It is every institution’s responsibility to do this in a timely manner.

Refusing to take the simple step to notify Hadden’s patients ahead of the ASA sunset implies Columbia remains more interested in protecting Hadden and itself, rather than its patients. Columbia’s university president and the CEO of the medical center issued a joint apology but have yet to launch an independent investigation into the university’s colossal failure to protect patient safety. This desire to prioritize damage control over addressing the underlying problem is common; perversely, when these actions come to light, they often end up delivering a reputational blow to the institution.

In this case, both the Columbia community and those outside it support Columbia notifying patients. The recent inauguration for Dr. Minouche Shafik, the new university president, was interrupted by chants of “You protected Robert Hadden” and “Notify the patients.”

The ASA gives survivors of sexual abuse a golden opportunity to pursue long-overdue justice; we should not let Columbia run out the clock on them, at least not under the cloak of darkness.

Take Action

If you work in healthcare and want to join us in urging Columbia to notify Hadden’s patients, please sign this open letter.

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About and

Alyssa Burgart is a clinical associate professor of anesthesiology and bioethics at Stanford University.
Arghavan Salles is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and a senior research scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She’s on Twitter: @arghavan_salles.