For more than two decades, patients of an OB/GYN named Robert Hadden warned Columbia University that he was sexually inappropriate and abusive. One woman even called the police and had him arrested, but Hadden was allowed to return to work days later. In other disturbing incidents, patients describe Hadden’s colleagues brushing off his behavior, or even looking away while in the exam room. Over the years, Hadden’s superiors failed to take action. To date, more than 245 patients have alleged that the obstetrician abused them, and Columbia—a prestigious institution committed to “the highest standards of ethical conduct”—continues to aggressively fight new lawsuits from his victims. This is a piece of tremendous reporting—but it’s also deeply triggering and upsetting.
On an October morning, Monson went to her first appointment with Hadden, and they proceeded from a get-to-know-you chat in his office to an exam room. Monson knew immediately that the breast check, prolonged and whole-handed, was not normal; she asked Hadden if he’d felt something concerning. She remembers that during both the breast and pelvic exams, the medical assistant turned her back to face the counter as if she had something to do there. But the counter was empty. As soon as Hadden left the room, Monson felt the assistant’s eyes boring into her. “I felt like she was telling me, ‘Don’t come back,’” Monson says. She did not fully process that she had been sexually assaulted until hours later, sitting alone on her sofa. “It was like a revelation,” she says. “I just suddenly knew. I was just sobbing. I understood what had happened.”