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‘The Height of Hypocrisy.’ Women’s Groups Feel Betrayed by N.Y. Attorney General They Once Saw as an Ally

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Last November, Judy Harris Kluger stood next to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a press conference as he railed against a Brooklyn hospital that charged sexual assault survivors for their forensic rape kits. Kluger, the executive director of advocacy group Sanctuary for Families, thanked Schneiderman for his hard work on behalf of women.

After The New Yorker reported that four women accused Schneiderman of physical abuse on Monday night, Kluger turned on the TV and saw footage from that moment as part of the local news coverage of the allegations.

“You can only imagine the sense of betrayal. It’s not about me personally, it’s about the other advocates that work day and night to ensure the safety and well-being of women,” Kluger told TIME. “He was someone who stands up at press conferences, making statements in support of issues that are important to women and calling out other men who engaged in inappropriate, violent behavior. Behind closed doors, he’s engaging in the same sort of the behavior — it’s the height of hypocrisy.”

Schneiderman, a Democrat, publicly positioned himself as a champion for women’s rights and liberal darling throughout his career in politics. He vocally supported the #MeToo movement, bringing a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein and praising The New Yorker for its role in reporting on sexual assault and harassment allegations. Schneiderman’s carefully crafted image came crashing down on Monday night. Now, women’s groups that once considered him a close ally are publicly rebuking him.

Sanctuary for Families, which fights to end sexual and domestic violence, had partnered with Schneiderman on several issues involving women’s rights, including human trafficking. When Schneiderman, as a state senator, introduced a bill make strangulation a violent felony in 2010, the group was one of the bill’s most vocal supporters.

“Someone champions that legislation but then engages in the same behavior?” Kluger said. “There’s an element of sickness there. That’s the only way I can characterize it.”

Two women — Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam — told The New Yorker that Schneiderman slapped, choked and verbally abused them during romantic relationships. Schneiderman denied the allegations, telling the magazine: “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.” Schneiderman, who was elected attorney general in 2010 and 2014, resigned hours after the allegations went public.

Last week, the National Institute for Reproductive Health honored Schneiderman as a “champion of choice” at a luncheon, where he said it was time to “build a stronger, louder movement for women’s freedom and equality than we’ve ever seen.” The group is now revoking its award.

“We were absolutely appalled and horrified,” Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, told TIME on Tuesday. “There is no way to reconcile his public record with his private actions. Even a lifetime of working to advance women’s rights in the public sphere can never excuse or erase private abuse against women.”

Ilyse Hogue, the president of pro-abortion rights advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted on Monday night: “One more reminder that progressive credentials are no safeguard against sexual predation. Also why we simply need more women in these positions.”

Miller recommended that other progressive male leaders should examine their own political and personal histories to assure they are doing all that they can to promote women’s equality.

“The message here is: actions matter, the personal is political, and we need to see action that moves us all forward,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon male leaders to look at what they’re doing to advance women’s rights, equality, dignity and autonomy… are you acting according to those values across every sphere of your life?”

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Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com