“I didn’t tell anyone what happened,” Evelyn Yang told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview that aired Thursday. “I thought, ‘This happened to me. I can process this. I can deal with it. I can compartmentalize it.’”
While Yang eventually told her husband, she resolved to keep the traumatic experience a closely guarded secret from the public, and even most of her family, until recently, when she came across a letter from a voter. A woman was writing to tell Andrew Yang that his message about supporting female entrepreneurs had inspired her to press sexual assault charges against one of her company’s investors, CNN reported.
“That was enough for her to make this life-altering move, and that was just so powerful,” Yang said. “I remember reading that letter and others and saying, ‘I feel you. I wish I could reach out to you and tell you I understand. I have my own story.’”
Yang’s story begins roughly eight years ago when she found out she was pregnant. As the expectant mother searched for OB/GYNs in New York, she said she came across an experienced doctor with a solid reputation who worked at prestigious medical facilities affiliated with Columbia University. Yang was sold.
But it wasn’t long before she started to feel somewhat uneasy about her decision.
The doctor’s behavior during her appointments had gone from routine to “inappropriate,” Yang said. The exams became longer and more frequent and he would often ask “probing questions” about her sex life, she said.
“There was absolutely no premise for that line of questioning, and it seemed like he just wanted to hear about me talking about sex,” she said. “What I kept sticking to was this: ‘Okay, so my doctor is pervy. I have a pervy doctor, but I’m going to focus on having a healthy baby,’ and the idea of changing doctors was overwhelming for me.”
So Yang stayed and put up with him, convinced that she just needed to “trust him.”
That all changed when she was seven months pregnant.
“I was in the exam room, and I was dressed and ready to go,” Yang said, recalling the appointment. “Then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about, ‘I think you might need a C-section,’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me.”
At first, Yang was confused as the doctor began to examine her internally without gloves, she alleged. Then, it dawned on her.
“At that moment, I knew it was wrong. I knew I was being assaulted,” she said.
Although Yang said she imagined herself as a person who would “throw a chair … and run out yelling bloody murder,” that wasn’t what happened.
“I just kind of froze, like a deer in headlights. Just frozen,” she said. “... I remember trying to fix my eyes on a spot on the wall and just trying to avoid seeing his face as he was assaulting me. Just waiting for it to be over.”
Afterward, Yang said she chose to stay quiet because she worried about upsetting her family, specifically her husband.
“I just didn’t want to affect others, and I certainly didn’t want Andrew blaming himself for not being able to go with me to these doctor’s visits,” she said, adding that her husband was frequently traveling for his nonprofit organization at the time. “Honestly if he was with me in the room, if anyone was with me in the room, this obviously wouldn’t have happened.”
Months later, Yang learned that another woman had accused the same doctor of assault, and soon she was one of several women working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to build a case against the physician. By that point, she said she had also told her husband about the ordeal, noting that he cried: “He wasn’t bawling, but there were tears.”
Despite testimonies from more than a dozen women, including Yang, who remained anonymous, Robert A. Hadden struck a deal in 2016, pleading guilty to two out of nine charges. Yang’s allegations were not among them, according to CNN.
Hadden had to give up his medical license and register as a Level 1 sex offender, but did not get jail time, the New York Times reported. An attorney representing Hadden in the criminal case declined to comment, and calls to numbers listed for the doctor went unanswered. In a related civil suit, Hadden has denied allegations not included in the plea deal.
“It’s like getting slapped in the face and punched in the gut,” Yang told CNN on Thursday. “The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice. There was no justice here.”
Yang said she and the other women were “flat-out denied” the opportunity to speak directly to the judge during Hadden’s sentencing.
The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday. In a statement to CNN, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., called Hadden “a serial sexual predator,” adding, “We support all of his survivors, and applaud their strength and courage.”
“Because a conviction is never a guaranteed outcome in a criminal trial, our primary concern was holding him accountable and making sure he could never do this again — which is why we insisted on a felony conviction and permanent surrender of his medical license,” Vance said. “While we stand by our legal analysis and resulting disposition of this difficult case, we regret that this resolution has caused survivors pain.”
Yang also called out Columbia University during Thursday’s interview for “using their influence to protect themselves at the expense of the victims in this case.” Yang is now one of dozens of women who have filed a lawsuit against Hadden, Columbia and its affiliated hospitals, alleging that the institutions enabled the doctor and covered up allegations about his behavior, the Columbia Spectator reported. Hadden and lawyers for the hospitals have contested that lawsuit, arguing that the statute of limitations had passed, according to the New York Times.
A spokesperson for Andrew Yang’s campaign declined an interview, but released a statement from the candidate praising his wife’s courage.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of Evelyn for telling her story, and my heart breaks every time I think of what she had to experience,” Andrew Yang said. “She is my best friend and the bravest woman I know. No one deserves to be harmed and treated the way she and countless other women have been. When victims of abuse come forward, they deserve our belief, support, and protection. I hope that Evelyn’s story gives strength to those who have suffered and sends a clear message that our institutions must do more to protect and respond to women.”
On Thursday, Evelyn Yang credited the people she has met on the campaign trail for motivating her to take her story public.
“My experience with the sexual assault and all that happened afterward is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with everyday,” she said. “I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”