New True Crime Podcast Investigates OB-GYN Found Guilty Of Abusing Patients For Decades
Exposed: Cover-Up at Columbia University tells the story of how Dr. Robert Hadden of Columbia University sexually assaulted patients for decades and the women who brought him to justice.
Content Warning: This article contains detailed descriptions of sexual assaults.
A new podcast from Wondery and journalist Laura Beil dives into the harrowing case of Dr. Robert Hadden, a well-respected OB-GYN affiliated with Columbia University who sexually assaulted hundreds of women when they were most vulnerable. Exposed: Cover-Up at Columbia University tells the story of how his heinous crimes came to light and how the elite Ivy League institution where he spent more than two decades tried to keep them in the shadows.
Exposed is about one doctor’s serial assault of patients and the victims who brought him to justice.
The podcast begins not with the first of Dr. Hadden’s crimes, but the first for which he faced any kind of consequence. During her pregnancy, Laurie Kanyok, a professional dancer, had some misgivings about her doctor stemming from painful pelvic exams (prompting a moan from the doctor) and unusual sensations on her vulva. But it wasn’t until her six-week postpartum exam, when she felt Hadden lick her vulva, that she knew he had done something illegal. Her partner called 911 and the doctor was arrested that day. But by the following Tuesday, Hadden was back at work, with Columbia’s knowledge and endorsement.
Despite genetic evidence that someone had left saliva on Kanyok (who was not her partner), there was not enough of that evidence for authorities to charge Hadden. Dissatisfied with this turn of events, Kanyok took her story to the press, and while there wasn’t a lot of media attention, there was enough to start to get the wheels of justice rolling.
The podcast interviews victims, lawyers, and others involved in the case of Dr. Hadden.
Over the course of the series, we learn that Kanyok was not Hadden’s first victim. In fact, there are several hundred, at this point, who have come forward, beginning as far back as 1993. Hadden, they say, assaulted patients in his care, with and without nurse chaperones present, from inappropriate breast exams and genital touch (including painful penetration) to masturbating women while in stirrups and orally assaulting them. Some of Hadden’s other victims, including Marissa Hoechstetter, Sandra Abramowicz, Evelyn Yang, and Diane Monson relate the events of this harrowing tale in their own words on the podcast, not just the abuse but the years of advocacy and legal battles that would ultimately bring a predator to justice. Kanyok was also not his last: in fact, one patient dates her abuse to the day Hadden went back to work after his arrest.
Yang, who is the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, states in the podcast how a very specific chain of events ultimately brought this story to a kind of conclusion: she saw Kanyok’s story and joined the first case against him (which ultimately ended in a plea bargain in which Hadden did not see any jail or prison time); her lawyer from that case, Anthony DiPietro, later connected her to Hoechstetter; Hoechstetter, who by then had begun patient and victim advocacy work, emboldened Yang, then a public figure in connection to her husband, to reach out to CNN’s Dana Bash and give a public interview about her trauma; Yang’s interview was seen by Monson, who had in her possession a 1994 letter from Columbia University acknowledging that they’d received her complaint of sexual abuse by Hadden that in part prompted a new case against Hadden at the federal level.
Other interviewees include the blunt and fierce Isabelle Kirshner, who defended Hadden in the first court case; Laura Millendorf, the DA assigned to that same case; and Cyrus Vance, then New York District Attorney and his deputy at the time, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, who admit mishandling of the initial case against Hadden.
Exposed highlights how Columbia University appears to have protected and enabled Dr. Hadden.
While Columbia initially denied any knowledge of allegations against Hadden prior to Kanyok’s partner’s 911 call, it becomes clear that was not the case.
In addition to the letter from Columbia-Presbyterian’s then head of obstetrics Dr. Harold Fox sent to Monson acknowledging her complaint back in 1994, an investigation of the university found that it had withheld key evidence in the first case against Hadden, including the aforementioned letter (which they claimed not to have known about), emails, and even a write-up of Hadden for inappropriate behavior. Moreover, two of Hadden’s former colleagues came forward to relate that they were aware that the doctor had, at the very least alienated patients with inappropriate behavior and comments. Nurse Willie Terry testified in court to actually seeing abuse take place but never reported it, stating that the hierarchy at the institution was crystal clear and that a nurse would never be believed over a doctor.
Though the university, which boasts a $13.28 billion endowment has reached settlements amounting to approximately $236 million with at least 227 survivors, including Yang and Kanyok, they have not faced criminal charges, and likely won’t. “Any possible criminal charges were time barred by the statute of limitations,” Biel states in the podcast.
Dr. Hadden was sentenced to 20 years in prison on sex abuse charges.
Hadden was arrested in 2020 after the Southern District of New York filed charges against him as more information became available. In July of 2023, he was found guilty on four counts of enticing and inducing patients to travel interstate to his Manhattan office where he sexually abused them. He was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years per count, to be served consecutively. For a man his age, 64, this essentially amounts to a life sentence.
Neither Hadden nor Columbia University leadership (either former president Lee Bollinger, who served in that capacity from 2002 to the summer of 2023, or current president Minouche Shafik, who has been criticized for her response to this case) agreed to be interviewed for the podcast.
“[Columbia’s] response to Hadden’s arrest wasn’t to slow down and investigate,” Biel says in the final episode of Exposed. “It was an immediate move to minimize it, dismiss the accusation, and try to act like everything was normal.” The New York District Attorney’s office acknowledges that Hadden may be the most prolific sexual assailant in the history of the office.
After the podcast’s release, students and survivors of Hadden’s sexual abuse held a protest at Columbia University.
On Oct. 24, hundreds of students and survivors of Hadden’s sexual abuse, several of whom were included in the podcast, held a rally outside Columbia University President Minouche Shafik’s office and delivered a letter demanding an internal investigation into the “institutional failures that allowed Hadden to perpetrate his crimes for decades.” The letter was signed by 36 elected officials.
“To date, not a single employee at Columbia has faced consequences for covering up Hadden's crimes. As a Columbia graduate, I feel profoundly disappointed by the failures of our university,” NYS Assemblymember Grace Lee said at the rally.
You can listen to Exposed: Cover-Up at Columbia University wherever you get your podcasts.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.