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Rabu, 11 Agustus 2021

Andrew Cuomo’s farcical excuse for alleged sexual harassment - NEWS.com.au

“In many ways, I see the world through the eyes of my daughters,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday as he announced his resignation.

Two weeks from now, Mr Cuomo will leave office in disgrace, driven out by an investigation that concluded he sexually harassed at least 11 women.

It was difficult to identify the most galling moment from a resignation speech so thoroughly saturated with shamelessness and hypocrisy. But I’ve settled on the 90 seconds Mr Cuomo spent directly addressing his three daughters.

He chose that moment to deliver a sermon on, I kid you not, sexism.

“I have lived this experience with and through (my daughters). I have sat on the couch with them, hearing the ugly accusations, for weeks. I have seen the look in their eyes and the expression on their faces, and it hurt,” Mr Cuomo said.

“I want my three jewels to know this: my greatest goal is for them to have a better future than the generations of women before them. It is still, in many ways, a man’s world. It always has been. We have sexism that is culturalised and institutionalised.

“I want to make sure that society allows them to fly as high as their wings will carry them. There should be no assumptions, no stereotypes, no limitations.

“I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I never did, and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman, or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated. And that is the God’s honest truth.

“Your dad made mistakes, and he apologised, and he learned from it, and that is what life is all about.”

Put aside the patronising life advice, though it is jarring coming from a guy whose apparent lack of self-control just levelled his career.

The fact is, Mr Cuomo has not offered anything resembling a genuine apology. There is no indication that he has learned from his mistakes. He barely even acknowledges them.

What little contrition he showed yesterday was laughably disingenuous.

RELATED: Cuomo’s resignation rocks US politics

There’s a tactic politicians often use, usually as a last resort, when they’re caught doing something wrong. They seek to avoid taking responsibility for whatever they did by admitting to, and apologising for, something less serious.

It’s the political equivalent of pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

This is the rhetorical trick Mr Cuomo tried to pull off yesterday.

“There is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual harassment,” the Governor said.

“Now don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that, I deeply, deeply apologise.

“I thought a hug and putting my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly, but she found it to be too forward. I kissed a woman on the cheek at a wedding, I thought I was being nice, but she felt that it was too aggressive.

“I have slipped and called people ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’ and ‘darling’. I meant it to be endearing, but women found it dated and offensive.

“I take full responsibility for my actions. I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humour can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life.

“In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realise the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just did not fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses.”

He takes full responsibility. He’s deeply apologetic. No excuses. But on a fundamental level, he is rejecting all of these women’s accounts, saying they misinterpreted his attempts to be “friendly” or “nice” as harassment.

Mr Cuomo is seeking to paint his behaviour as a generational misunderstanding. He’s 63 years old, many of the women are in their twenties, and he just didn’t know where the boundaries of acceptable conduct were.

That’s his version of events, and he seems to think it’s plausible.

RELATED: ‘It’s embarrassing’: Cuomo scandal grows

There are three glaring issues with this explanation.

First, Mr Cuomo has previously, publicly displayed his knowledge of those same boundaries. In fact, he helped set them.

This is the guy who introduced legislation to ban “sexual harassment in every workplace” all the way back in 2013. He has previously called for other New York politicians to resign over their own sex scandals.

As The Washington Post noted over the weekend, Mr Cuomo signed a law to help women win their workplace sexual harassment claims on August 12, 2019.

“Let’s honour all the women who have suffered this pain and endured this humiliation,” he said at the time.

The very next day, he made a state trooper on his protection detail feel uncomfortable by asking her why she wasn’t wearing a dress. It was not an isolated incident.

Issue number two: according to multiple women, Mr Cuomo was clearly aware that his conduct was wrong when he engaged in it, long before any of them came forward.

That same state trooper told investigators that, having just kissed her on the cheek, Mr Cuomo said “something to the effect of, ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to do that.’”

Another woman, Virginia Limmiatis, attended an event where Mr Cuomo was speaking in May of 2017. She was wearing a shirt with the name of her employer, an energy company, printed across her chest.

At one point during the event, she alleges, Mr Cuomo approached her at a rope line. She held out her hand, offering a handshake. Instead, he walked up close to her and pressed his fingers into each letter of the company’s name, working his way across her chest.

She recalled that he leaned in so their cheeks were touching and said “something along the lines of, ‘I’m going to say I see a spider on your shoulder.’”

There was no spider, but he proceeded to brush his hand “in the area between her shoulder and breast below her collarbone”.

Ms Limmiatis believed Mr Cuomo knew he had “done something wrong” because he “had to create a cover story”, in the form of the non-existent spider.

Her story brings us to the other problem with Mr Cuomo’s excuse: the women haven’t just accused him of “offending” them, as he characterised it. They’ve accused him of engaging in sustained, unambiguous harassment.

The full report produced by investigators is 165 pages long, but let’s run through just a couple more examples.

An executive assistant said Mr Cuomo’s conduct towards her gradually escalated from “playful banter” and questions about her marital status to physical contact, including several kisses on the cheek and at least one on the lips.

Mr Cuomo allegedly grabbed her backside while they were taking a selfie and, on another occasion, reached under her blouse to grab her breast.

“He was, like, cupping my breast. He cupped my breast. I have to tell you, it was – at the moment I was in such shock,” she told investigators.

“I knew what just went on. I knew and he knew too that was wrong. And that I in no way, shape or form invited that, nor did I ask for it. I didn’t want it. I feel like I was being taken advantage of.

“He definitely knew what he was doing was inappropriate.”

She feared repercussions would follow if she told anyone about his conduct, so remained silent until another woman, Charlotte Bennett, went public with her own allegations. That inspired her to speak to investigators.

Another alleged victim is that aforementioned state trooper, unnamed in the report, who is still assigned to the Governor’s protection detail.

After meeting her briefly in 2017, Mr Cuomo appears to have played a significant role in getting her transferred to his detail, even though she did not meet the minimum requirements for joining it.

He claims he pushed for her to be hired to increase the male-dominated unit’s diversity.

The trooper described Mr Cuomo’s behaviour towards her as “flirtatious” and “creepy”, and said she did not observe him treating male troopers the same way.

Once, while she was standing in front of him in an elevator, Mr Cuomo allegedly ran his finger from the top of her neck to midway down her back, saying: “Hey, you.”

On another occasion, while she was stationed outside his residence, she asked Mr Cuomo whether he needed anything. He asked to kiss her.

“I remember just freezing. In the back of my head I’m like, ‘Oh, how do I say no politely?’ Because in my head if I said no, he’s going to take it out on the detail, and now I’m on the bad list.”

He kissed her on the cheek. Another trooper, who corroborated her account, joked that “the Governor had never asked to kiss him”.

In September of 2019, Mr Cuomo ran his hand across the trooper’s stomach as she held a door open for him.

“I felt completely violated. But you know, I’m here to do a job,” she said.

“Like, that’s between my chest and my privates.”

She, too, decided not to make any formal complaint, fearing retaliation.

Most of the 11 women described a similar escalation of behaviour, starting with questions about their personal lives and remarks about their appearance, then progressing to sexually suggestive comments, and culminating in touching and sometimes kissing that made them deeply uncomfortable.

Several of them were state employees, adding an immense power imbalance to the interactions. Mr Cuomo was their boss, with the ability to ruin their careers if they rejected his advances.

You can read the full report, including each of their accounts, here.

None of these allegations can be brushed off as a mere generational misunderstanding. We’re not talking about one or two off-colour remarks. Much of the behaviour described by the state trooper, the executive assistant, Ms Limmiatis and the other women is textbook harassment, and the investigators found their testimony credible.

This is how Tarana Burke, the activist who started the Me Too movement, reacted to Mr Cuomo’s speech yesterday.

“This ‘generational difference’ and ‘rules have changed’ nonsense is wrong. The rules have not changed. It was wrong 50 years ago and today. The difference is there were few paths to accountability years ago,” Ms Burke said.

“The rule of ‘keep your hands to yourself’ is universal. We all learned that in Kindergarten.”

And this is what one of the women, Ms Bennett, told CBS a few days ago.

“He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship,” she said.

“He sexually harassed me. I am not confused. It is not confusing. I am living in reality, and it’s sad to see that he’s not.”

Then we have Mr Cuomo’s efforts, largely through his lawyer Rita Glavin, to discredit the report and the women’s allegations. Ms Glavin actually spent half an hour immediately before his speech yesterday pushing back on the accusations one-by-one.

The Governor himself has claimed the investigation into his conduct was politically motivated.

“Obviously in a highly political matter like this, there are many agendas, and there are many motivations at play. If anyone thought otherwise, they would be naive,” he said in his speech.

“This situation and moment are not about the facts. It’s not about the truth. It’s not about thoughtful analysis. It’s not about how do we make the system better. This is about politics, and our political system today is too often driven by the extremes.

“There is an intelligent discussion to be had on gender-based actions, on generational and cultural behavioural differences, on setting higher standards and finding reasonable solutions. But the political environment is too hot and it is too reactionary for that now.

“My instinct is to fight through this controversy, because I truly believe it is politically motivated. I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful, and I believe that it demonises behaviour that is unsustainable for society.”

Which is it, Governor? Are the allegations against you “unfair”, “untruthful” and “politically motivated”? Or are you “deeply sorry” to the women, and willing to take “full responsibility” for your actions?

These two positions cannot coexist. By trying to hold both of them at once, he is insulting the intelligence of his constituents and disrespecting his accusers.

But the worst part, by my reckoning, is still that message to his daughters.

“I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I never did, and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman, or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated. And that is the God’s honest truth,” he said.

You’ve read some of the accusations. You know how Mr Cuomo allegedly treated these women. If that is how he’d like his daughters to be treated as well, it is obvious he has learned nothing.

Sam is news.com.au’s US correspondent | @SamClench

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2021-08-11 21:17:01Z
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