For nearly three decades, women who have sought gynecological services from Robert Hadden at New York’s most prestigious medical institutions have been victims of serial sexual abuse disguised as health care.
Ahead of his sentencing in Manhattan federal court on Monday, Hadden’s former patients mourned the generations of trauma inflicted by the former Columbia University medical practice obstetrician-gynecologist — and the countless opportunities those in power had to stop him.
Robyn Bass Lavender told the Daily News that Hadden’s trial day was one more step in a process “that should never have taken so long to bring to justice”.
“And I’m not talking about the federal case taking too long, I’m talking about when it was first reported. Columbia has known for decades that they have a problem, and they’ve swept it under the rug,” Lavender said.
“They could have done things that would have avoided a lot of the trauma he caused,” she added.
Hadden’s depravity flew under the radar of many patients he abused who had little experience with OB/GYNs, but it was not invisible to everyone. Hospital administrators learned of the allegations long before the federal government filed charges in 2020.
Evidence in his case showed that a patient reported him to Columbia administrators in 1994, at the start of Hadden’s 25-year tenure, after at least two nurses witnessed his abuse.
In a detailed three-page letter to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center Acting Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology Harold Fox, Dian Saderup Monson reported that Hadden pulled on her nipples, performed a “prolonged and physically powerful pap smear” and sexually lubricated her when she visited him about pregnancy issues.
Fox told Monson he would “have a chat with Dr. Hadden” and “follow up immediately.” She never heard from him again, and Hadden remained employed for another 18 years.
Incidents of abuse detailed in his various criminal and civil cases by hundreds of women of varying ages include Hadden surreptitiously licking his patients’ genitals, tasting their breast milk, and performing painful and medically unnecessary vaginal and anal exams with tools.
As Hadden’s brazen abuse grew, so did his position.
He became an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian shortly after his 1990 promotion to Chief Resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University, where he began residency around 1987.
Inside the hospital’s birthing unit, Hadden sexually abused 144 women admitted in labor, Rosalina Lozada testified at her trial.
The midwife said that every woman she saw Hadden examine from mid-1993 to 1999 had been subjected to fake cervical exams resembling scenes from pornographic films.
“What the hell . . . what is he doing?” Lozada remembers thinking when she first saw Hadden examine a patient in labor, according to her testimony.
Lozada said she feared retaliation if she reported the chief medical officer.
Amy Yoney, a former cardiology research nurse at Columbia and Hadden’s patient of 12 years, said she still felt guilty for referring friends to her doctor. Like many of Hadden’s victims, he was her first OB/GYN, and she was unaware that her uncomfortable exams were acts of abuse.
“I didn’t realize it until I had another doctor,” Yoney said. “I realized his exams weren’t medically necessary and realized what I had always believed was actually true.”
Yoney, who now lives and works outside New York at a small biotech company, doesn’t think Hadden’s actions went unnoticed.
“He saw many, many patients and as we now know, the first letter came out in the early 90s, and he actually wasn’t arrested,” she said. “And even after he was arrested the first time, when the police were called, they let him in.
“I think he was untouchable because he was hiding behind the institution.”
Hadden’s eventual arrest came in 2012 when Laurie Kanyok called 911, reporting that he had sexually assaulted her during an exam.
A memo documenting Kanyok’s statements to Columbia administrators details how she called her assistant “hysterically crying” and “unable to speak” after the exam, asking for the name of the nurse who was in the room before it happened.
During the first stage of Hadden’s sentencing in June, when U.S. District Judge Richard Berman invited the victims to address the court, Kanyok realized it had been nearly 11 years to the day since she had called the cops.
“There was no choice. It was not an (option) not to call 911 because there was clearly a crime committed,” Kanyok said.
“As we know, we can go back and see all the records, he was released, he was released, he lives at home… The system must honor us with the justice of the maximum sentence.”
According to allegations in his federal case, Hadden would be back at work within a week of his arrest for assaulting Kanyok and would continue to abuse at least one other patient. His eventual dismissal in 2013 came after he filed several requests for extended leave.
Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., who opened an investigation after the arrest, filed charges in 2014, alleging Hadden sexually abused six of his patients, including fondling and licking their vaginas.
As the investigation progressed and Hadden faced allegations in civil proceedings, prosecutors for Vance said they were in contact with more women.
But in 2016, the DA did a 180 and offered Hadden the chance to plead guilty to assaulting just two women without serving jail time. As part of the deal, he had to surrender his medical license and register as a low-level sex offender. The DA agreed not to pursue any further criminal charges for anything uncovered during the years-long investigation.
In 2020, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office brought the case that Hadden’s victims had requested from Vance, which led to his arrest on charges carrying a significant prison sentence and his release on $1 million bond. The jury quickly convicted him in January on charges alleging he incited out-of-state patients to commit abuse under the guise of medical treatment.
In recent filings, Manhattan Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Kim said Hadden, 64, of Englewood, NJ, should serve at least 25 years in prison. His federal public defender Deirdre von Dornum implored the judge to impose three, arguing that he paid for his crimes in 2016 and should not have to continue defending himself due to opinions that his sentence was unsatisfactory.
Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital have collectively paid about $236 million to at least 200 former Hadden patients over the past two years. Yet they never directly admitted wrongdoing.
Anthony T. DiPietro, an attorney who has represented dozens of Hadden’s victims in various cases over the past 11 years, is pushing the New York Department of Health to enforce a 2016 order requiring all former patients of Hadden at medical facilities affiliated with Columbia University to be notified that he has lost his license. The order also required that patients treated by Hadden at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill-Cornell be contacted. Representatives of the three institutions did not respond to inquiries from The News.
DiPietro thinks the victims who have come forward are just the tip of the iceberg.
“They are trying to pretend the order is directed at Robert Hadden but not them. I mean, what are they trying to say, that if Robert Hadden shows up at the medical records office and says, “Oh, hey, I need to send a letter to these women, give me their names and addresses,” that Columbia would in fact pass that information on to Hadden? says Di Pietro.
“The burden, the duty, the obligation rests with Columbia to inform its patients.”
Between state and federal charges, when it seemed authorities had let Hadden off the hook, Marissa Hoechstetter, Evelyn Yang and several other women he had abused took matters into their own hands. They successfully lobbied state lawmakers to pass the Adult Survivors Act, landmark legislation allowing victims of sexual assault to sue civilly after the statute of limitations expires.
The women have continued to come forward with allegations since the year-long law was passed in November, with the total number of charges in all of Hadden’s cases and in legislative proceedings now at least 350.
“About six to eight thousand women and girls were exposed to him during his tenure,” DiPietro said.
“These women deserve to know what happened. They deserve to know what they have been exposed to.