Former CDC director Tom Frieden was arrested for 'forcible touching' — here's what that means

Elise Solé

Dr. Tom Frieden, a respected former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was arrested for several sex crimes, including an act called “forcible touching.”

On Friday, Frieden, 57, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with forcible touching, sex abuse, and sexual harassment for squeezing the backside of a 55-year-old female acquaintance, in October, at the home he reportedly shares with his Oberlin College girlfriend Barbara Chang (although it’s not clear if they are married). According to the New York Post, Frieden grabbed the victim, whom he has known for two decades, as they, along with others, were leaving his home. 

A representative of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office told Yahoo Lifestyle in an email that Frieden was arraigned and released without bail. The judge also issued an order of protection that prevents him from having contact with the victim. Frieden’s next court date is October 11.

Frieden’s attorney Laura Brevetti did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

A statement written on behalf of Frieden and published by the Associated Press read, “The allegation does not reflect Dr. Frieden’s public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world.” 

Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, appeared at a Brooklyn arraignment to face several sex charges, including forcible touching. (Photo: Getty Images)

New York State penal law classifies forcible touching as a class A misdemeanor that involves a person “intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose” forcibly touching “the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire.”

Examples of forcible touching are squeezing, grabbing, or pinching, and, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the penalty for a conviction is up to one year in prison. 

As described in his official bio, Frieden as health commissioner from 2002–09 implemented smoking bans in bars and restaurants and spearheaded the posting of nutritional content on menus. He also played a public role in handling major disease outbreaks such as the 2014 Ebola crisis.

Former President Barack Obama, who appointed Frieden to the CDC, once called him “an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies,” according to the New York Post.   

Frieden currently oversees Resolve to Save Lives, a health initiative by the global public health organization Vital Strategies that receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

CDC spokesperson Bert Kelly tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “CDC has no information on this matter. We refer you to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

However, José Luis Castro, president and CEO of Vital Strategies, sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “In April of this year, Dr. Tom Frieden, who heads our Resolve to Save Lives Initiative, informed me that a non-work-related friend of his and his family of more than 30 years accused him of inappropriate physical contact. I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally. In all of my experiences with him, there have never been any concerns or reports of inappropriate conduct.

“Vital Strategies is committed to a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. As such, even though she is not an employee, earlier this month we conducted a thorough investigation by an external expert, which included an in-depth interview with every staff member on the Resolve to Save Lives team to determine whether there are any concerns about inappropriate behavior. This assessment determined there have been no incidents of workplace harassment.

“Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence.”

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