Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors: New Law Offers Healing
Jennifer Robinson, MD
Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Marissa Hoechstetter knew things weren’t quite right. First, there was the question about orgasms posed by Robert Hadden, the older male doctor who became her OB/GYN. Then, in a follow-up appointment early on in her pregnancy, his “overly-handsy” breast exam. It was Hoechstetter’s first pregnancy. Hadden had been recommended by a trusted friend and she believed he would treat her with care. So she brushed off her discomfort, as women in ambiguous situations so often do.
In a subsequent visit, while she lay on the examination table, Hoechstetter felt Hadden rub her clitoris. “Did that actually happen?” she asked herself. The draping around her protruding abdomen obscured any view of his hand. She was near the end of her pregnancy; delivery of her twins was imminent. She told herself she needed to stay focused on a healthy delivery. And she did. In April of 2011, her beautiful twin daughters were born.
But one year later, during the vaginal exam that was part of her one-year postpartum visit, Hoechstetter did not second-guess. The prickle of Hadden’s beard and tongue on her labia were undeniable. “I knew what happened,” she says. “I knew.” Still, she tried to refocus. “Almost everyone I know has some experience that we’ve tried to accept and move on. So I was like, ‘I'm not in danger. I'm not going to see this person anymore. I've got to raise my babies and live my life.’”
But the violations of her body, and of the trust she’d placed in the medical establishment, would not abate. The actions of the man then-acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss would later describe as “a predator in a white coat” led her to shun subsequent doctor’s visits, destroyed memories of her pregnancy, and impacted her relationship with her young children. “There was a long time where I didn't even want to look at baby pictures, because they reminded me of what happened – of the first person to touch my children.”
In late May, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law the Adult Survivors Act (ASA). The bill gives people like Hoechstetter an opportunity to hold perpetrators, and the systems that protect and enable them, to account – allowing survivors to file claims that would have otherwise been barred due to the statute of limitations.