There are few examples of men who’ve successfully returned to public life after being accused of sexual harassment, and by “successfully” I don’t mean lying low for a few months and then hosting a podcast about cancel culture. Aziz Ansari remains nearly the only one to have ever thoughtfully addressed the nature of his so-called misconduct. And for one shining moment, Louis C.K. set the standard by apologizing in detail for years of jerking off in front of female comics and damaging their careers, although his remorse soon curdled into self-pity. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Scott Stringer, the former New York City comptroller and onetime mayoral candidate, is now suing one of the two women who reported being harassed by him decades earlier for defamation.
Stringer’s 12-page filing claims that the lobbyist Jean Kim, “working with JOHN and JANE DOE(s),” caused “irreparable harm to him and his political future by spreading vicious lies.” Whatever conspiracy theory Stringer may hope to uncover won’t change the fact that the decisions that “derailed his career in public service,” to quote from the complaint, are his alone. It didn’t have to be this way.
In April 2021, when Stringer was running for mayor, Kim stepped into the public eye with a story that he had sexually harassed her while she was working on his campaign for public advocate in 2001. Within hours, Stringer’s campaign had picked apart her account for inconsistencies, and Kim’s lawyer issued follow-up statements to clarify her initial remarks. In the ensuing days, Kim offered a trickle of information to substantiate her claims, while further news reports pushed by Stringer attacked her credibility.
But it was Stringer’s sneering and self-righteous rebuttal that sealed his fate during his mayoral run. To be clear: He had a choice, and he chose the low road. First, he categorically denied forcibly kissing Kim, shoving his hand down her pants, and pawing her in a cab while whining, “Why won’t you fuck me?” Then he claimed that they were in a “light relationship” at the time, meaning if he had done any of the things he claimed he’d never do, it would have been consensual. He never once apologized or admitted the remotest possibility that he might have behaved badly. His supporters quickly deserted him, and the Working Families Party cited his statements for failing “to acknowledge and consider his responsibility for that harm.”
A month later, Stringer was singing a different tune. This was after a second woman spoke to The New York Times about an incident that had happened when she worked as a waitress at a bar Stringer once owned. Teresa Logan described nearly identical behavior on the part of her then-boss, saying he groped her at work, lunged at her in a cab, invited her up to his apartment, and then kissed her forcibly when she declined. This time Stringer seemed to acknowledge that the story could be true, without specifically confirming it: “If, in fact, I met Ms. Logan, and ever did anything to make her uncomfortable, I am sorry. [The bar] Uptown Local was a long-ago chapter in my life from the early 1990s and it was all a bit of a mess.” Logan explained that she’d been considering speaking up for a year and that it was Kim’s story and Stringer’s response that finally prompted her to come forward.
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It’s not a stretch to imagine that things might have played out differently if Stringer had shown some compassion for Kim and offered up genuine self-reflection. But he didn’t, and now he’s chosen the low road again.
His long-shot lawsuit attempts to get around the one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims by restarting the clock as of August 2022, when then–US Representative Carolyn Maloney criticized Jerry Nadler, her opponent in the primary, for campaigning with Stringer, “a man accused of sexual assault.” Stringer’s complaint suggests that Maloney was inspired by Kim, who had supposedly attended an event with her earlier that month. Not only is that claim easily dismantled (Stringer was accused of sexual misconduct by two women—who’s to say Maloney was talking about Kim?), but Kim is now empowered under New York’s recently reformed anti–Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law to file a countermotion. For that she can thank state Senator Brad Hoylman, a cosponsor of the law, who once described it as a strike against “vindictive bullies.” Although Hoylman had Donald Trump in mind, the bill also protects victims of sexual harassment from being threatened for speaking about their abuse, and its passage in 2019 was a priority of the advocacy group Time’s Up. If Kim files an anti-SLAPP motion, it would force Stringer to show a substantial basis in law for his arguments and to allege that Kim’s actions meet the higher standard of “actual malice” before he can even hope to get to discovery. Meanwhile, in order to collect damages and recover her legal fees, Kim needs to show that the whole thing is an attempt to “harass, intimidate, punish, or maliciously inhibit” her protected speech. It will be an uphill climb for both of them, but what previously would have been an expensive, time-consuming process can now be dismissed by the courts at the outset.
At the dawn of #MeToo, decades of abuse and the absence of accountability meant that speaking publicly was the only recourse for many women, forcing them to litigate their grievances in the court of public opinion. Yet even as laws have caught up and now offer a more formal process, the lack of a meaningful pathway for reparation and reconciliation has left many men believing that their only choice is to go on the attack. Some of them, like the Scott Stringers of the world, will always prefer to pay lawyers rather than therapists, but the absence of a vision for what real repair can look like leaves the movement’s work unfinished. Depending on the offense, a person who is willing to work for forgiveness and make restitution should have a way forward. Failing to figure that out will only lead to more career self-immolation, pointless lawsuits, and missed opportunities to make right. Everyone loses.