Schneiderman implies his alleged domestic abuse was ‘role-playing’ — here’s why that’s wrong

Korin Miller
Writer
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, seen here during a 2017 press conference about immigration. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned on Monday after four women accused him of physical abuse in an article published in the New Yorker. Schneiderman released a statement Monday night that said the allegations will “effectively prevent him from leading the office’s work,” but he denied the allegations.

The women in the article said they had been romantically involved with Schneiderman, and two said he had slapped, choked, and repeatedly hit them, to the degree that they needed to seek medical treatment. Another woman said she was slapped violently across the face by Schneiderman.

Schneiderman — a loud Trump opponent, whose most recent tweet concerns a plan to challenge Scott Pruitt and the denial of climate change — implied that the allegations were related to sexual role-playing. “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” he said in a statement to the New Yorker. “I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.” (The women maintain that the violence was not consensual, and two say Schneiderman often hit them after he drank.)

Experts on sexual behavior say his explanation doesn’t pan out. That’s because role-playing is a consensual activity that happens when people agree to engage in a specific scenario to act out, sex therapist Debra Laino tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Role-play relies heavily on consent and on mutually agreed-upon “safe words” that an individual can use to let the partner know the person wants to stop, Laino says. “These are important, because depending on the role-play, it could be dangerous,” she says. “There have to be safe words, so if one person gets uncomfortable, everything stops.”

Jessica O’Reilly, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast, agrees. “Consent is a cornerstone of all sex play, and you should ask for consent every single time you play with a partner,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “You always have the right to withdraw your consent at any time without explanation, regardless of what you may have agreed upon in the past.”

Safe words should generally include language that wouldn’t appear in a scene or role-play, like “red,” “popcorn,” or “cricket,” rather than things like “stop” or “please don’t,” which a partner could interpret as part of the game, O’Reilly says.

In the accounts of any of the sources in the Schneiderman story, safe words were not mentioned. One woman, Michelle Manning Barish, described the first time Schneiderman allegedly assaulted her. She says that they were in his bedroom, that he called her “a whore,” and that she talked back. She says Schneiderman backed her up to the edge of his bed. “All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,” Manning Barish says. “It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fiber, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”

Manning Barish says she left his apartment and told him it was over. “I want to make it absolutely clear,” she says. “This was under no circumstances a sex game gone wrong. This did not happen while we were having sex. I was fully dressed and remained that way. It was completely unexpected and shocking. I did not consent to physical assault.” However, the two were on and off after that, and she says the violence continued.

Another woman who asked not to be identified says Schneiderman slapped her across the face during a makeout session. When she told Schneiderman she wanted to leave, he allegedly replied, “You’d really be surprised. A lot of women like it. They don’t always think they like it, but then they do, and they ask for more.”

As for role-playing as a domestic violence defense, “we don’t hear that very often,” Ruth M. Glenn, MPA, executive director at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When there is that type of role-play, there is an agreement between the parties,” she says. “It is very unusual for someone to come forward and say this was domestic violence vs. someone didn’t pay attention to safe word.”

Glenn says that she “100 percent” believes the victims, adding that there is “no indication that they knew something like this was going to happen.” Glenn says it’s hard to know if this defense would work for Schneiderman if the allegations were to go to a court case. “We still have a culture that doesn’t acknowledge domestic violence in a good way for conviction,” she says.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

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