Could the Pandemic Prompt an ‘Epidemic of Loss’ of Women in the Sciences?

Like many women during the pandemic, Alisa Stephens found working from home to be a series of wearying challenges.

Dr. Stephens is a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania, and the technical and detail-oriented nature of her work requires long uninterrupted stretches of thought. Finding the time and mental space for that work with two young children at home proved to be an impossibility.

“That first month was really hard,” she recalled of the lockdown. Her infant daughter’s day care was closed, and her 5-year-old was at home instead of at school. With their nanny unable to come to the house, Dr. Stephens tended to her children all day and worked late into the evening. In the fall, when her daughter was set to begin kindergarten, the schools did not reopen.

Things eased once the family could safely bring in a nanny, but there was still little time for the deep thought Dr. Stephens had relied on each morning for her work. Over time, she has adjusted her expectations of herself.

studies have found that women have published fewer papers, led fewer clinical trials and received less recognition for their expertise during the pandemic.

Add to that the emotional upheaval and stress of the pandemic, the protests over structural racism, worry about children’s mental health and education, and the lack of time to think or work, and an already unsustainable situation becomes unbearable.

“The confluence of all of these factors creates this perfect storm. People are at their breaking point,” said Michelle Cardel, an obesity researcher at the University of Florida. “My big fear is that we are going to have a secondary epidemic of loss, particularly of early career women in STEM.”

Female scientists were struggling even before the pandemic. It was not unusual for them to hear that women were not as smart as men, or that a woman who was successful must have received a handout along the way, said Daniela Witten, a biostatistician at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some things are changing, she said, but only with great effort, and at a glacial pace.

steep for mothers. Even during maternity leave, they are expected to keep up with lab work, teaching requirements, publications and mentoring of graduate students. When they return to work, most do not have affordable child care.

Women in academia often have little recourse when confronted with discrimination. Their institutions sometimes lack the human resources structures common in the business world.

it will be far from enough.

“It’s sort of like if you’re drowning, and the university tells you, ‘Don’t worry if it takes you an extra year to get back to shore,’” Dr. Witten said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, that’s not helpful. I need a flotation device.’”

study on female scientists was published in the influential journal Nature Communications, suggesting that having female mentors would hinder the career of young scientists and recommending that the young women instead seek out men to help them.

The response was intense and unforgiving.

Hundreds of scientists, male and female, renounced the paper’s flawed methods and conclusions, saying it reinforced outdated stereotypes and neglected to take structural biases in academia into account.

“The advice from the paper was basically similar to advice your grandmother may have given you 50 years ago: Get yourself a man who will take care of you, and all will be fine,” Dr. Cardel said.

Nearly 7,600 scientists signed a petition calling on the journal to retract the paper — which it did on Dec. 21.

The study arrived at a time when many female scientists were already worried about the pandemic’s effect on their careers, and already on edge and angry with a system that offered them little support.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult time to be a woman in science,” said Leslie Vosshall, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York. “We’re already on the ground, we’re already on our knees — and then the paper just comes and kicks us to say: ‘We have the solution, let’s move the graduate students to a senior man.’”

reconsidered their dude walls, Dr. Vosshall said. “There are some traditions that should not be perpetuated.”

View Source

Skims Raises Funds At $1.6 Billion Valuation

Chewy’s co-founder is set to become GameStop’s chairman. Ryan Cohen’s investment in GameStop last year was one of the factors driving its torrid run as the “meme stock” of choice. Mr. Cohen and several others with connections to the online pet retailer are expected to be elected to GameStop’s board in June, pledging to turn GameStop retailer into the “Chewy of gaming.”

John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement yesterday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms. In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional I.P.O.s: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not.

“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals. Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O., and those funds are used to merge with an unspecified company in the future, thereby taking it public. Because the so-called “de-SPAC” deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.&A. deal. With traditional I.P.O.s, companies can’t issue such projections to prospective investors, because regulators consider it too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.

The S.E.C. thinks financial forecasts for SPACs might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. At the end of his statement, he suggested a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws apply to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model:

If we do not treat the de-SPAC transaction as the “real I.P.O.,” our attention may be focused on the wrong place, and potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.

The letter serves as a warning. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them. “The S.E.C has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.


Leon Black’s announcement that he was stepping down from Apollo sooner than expected came just days after directors learned of sexual harassment allegations against him, The New York Post reports. Mr. Black denied the claims, which the woman, Guzel Ganieva, tweeted about in mid-March.

View Source

Amid Sexual Harassment Scandals, Australia Plots a ‘Road Map for Respect’

SYDNEY, Australia — After two months of sexual assault scandals, including an alleged rape inside Parliament House, Australia’s conservative government agreed on Thursday to accept a series of recommendations that aim to prevent gender-based abuse and increase accountability for misbehavior in the workplace.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called his response to the report from the country’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner “a road map for respect” that would improve workplace culture in the public and private sectors. It includes more education in schools and the promise of new legislation to end exemptions for judges and members of Parliament from the country’s Sex Discrimination Law, and allows victims to file complaints for up to two years.

Mr. Morrison’s announcement was his most comprehensive effort so far to tackle a problem that has been festering for years in Australian politics, with women mistreated, demeaned or sexually harassed, usually without recourse.

A federal review focusing on Parliament’s workplace culture has also just begun, led by the same official, Kate Jenkins, and it may produce additional calls for reform as the demand for demonstrable change has continued to intensify.

the initial report was published in March 2020, with much of its findings overlooked by Mr. Morrison’s government until now, many women demanded more details and a clear timeline.

“It’s going to take more than just words from this government to correct the impression that they don’t care about these issues,” said Louise Chappell, a political science professor at the University of New South Wales. “This is not going to go away.”

Emma Husar, a former member of Parliament with the opposition Labor Party, said the government was still delivering only “the bare minimum.”

marches for justice that drew tens of thousands of women to the streets of Australian cities.

Mr. Morrison appeared on Thursday to leave some wiggle room for himself and his Liberal Party. He said his government accepted all 55 suggestions laid out in the report “in whole, in part or in principle,” leading his critics to question which measures would be put in place at the federal level, or passed on to states or given little more than lip service.

Many of the recommendations — from the creation of a national sexual harassment research agenda to “respectful relationship” training in schools — could take years to develop. And some of the changes announced on Thursday would simply bring Australia in line with other developed democracies — such as Britain, Canada and the United States — that have also passed legislation in the past few years tightening workplace standards for lawmakers.

Professor Chappell said the exemption for members of Parliament, for example — a carve-out in the sex-discrimination law also given to religious organizations — seemed especially outdated. Like many others, she welcomed the prime minister’s promise to ensure that lawmakers and the legal profession would no longer get special treatment.

“With all the cases we’ve seen so far, they have been able to act with impunity because they are not accountable in the same way that people outside Parliament are,” she said. “There’s been pressure to change that for many years.”

But the complaint process is still not clear. When Mr. Morrison was asked what the consequences would be for a sexual harassment complaint against a lawmaker, he said that was not yet decided.

“There are many issues that we’re still going to work through as we draft this legislation,” he said.

Professor Chappell said Mr. Morrison still seemed to be struggling with how far to go with policy and how to talk about the issue. In his news conference on Thursday, he emphasized that to change the culture of disrespect in the workplace, all Australians needed to take responsibility, but not “in a way that sets Australians against each other.”

“What does he mean here?” Professor Chappell asked. “That women are being too strident? Is it possible to address sexual harassment without some level of confrontation? I don’t think so.”

View Source

Powerful Men Fall, One After Another, in France’s Delayed #MeToo

The executive, Eric Brion, did not deny making such comments. But because the two did not work together, Mr. Brion argued the comments did not amount to sexual harassment and sued Ms. Muller for defamation. A ruling in 2019 that ordered Ms. Muller to pay 15,000 euros in damages, around $17,650, was overturned last week.

In 2019, the court said that Ms. Muller had “surpassed the acceptable limits of freedom of expression, as her comments descended into a personal attack.” This time, the judges found that Ms. Muller had acted in good faith, adding that the “#balancetonporc and #MeToo movements had drawn a lot of attention, had been hailed by diverse officials and personalities and had positively contributed to letting women speak freely.”

Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, a leading feminist philosopher, said that it was significant that the men now under investigation were leaders in a diversity of fields. Revelations surrounding them have undermined the myths of Frenchmen as great seducers and of a refined romantic culture where “we, French, in our interplay of seduction, know how to interpret nonverbal signs and we have this art of seduction, a gentle commerce between the sexes,” she said.

“These are men who all embody, in some ways, the old patriarchal order of things — of men of power and men who have used and abused their power to sexually exploit the bodies of others, whether they be women or young men,” Ms. Froidevaux-Metterie said, adding, “Perhaps we are experiencing the first real shock to that system.”

Some conservative intellectuals regard the ever-growing list of accused prominent men as evidence of the contamination of French society by American ideas on gender, race, religion and postcolonialism.

Pierre-André Taguieff, a historian and a leading critic of the American influence, said in an email that “neo-feminist and neo-antiracist ideologues denounce universalism, especially French republican universalism, as a fraud, a deceitful mask of imperialism, sexism and racism.”

View Source

‘The Most Unsafe Workplace’? Parliament, Australian Women Say

SYDNEY, Australia — When Julia Banks arrived in Parliament five years ago after a successful career in law and business, she felt as if she’d stepped back into the ’80s. Alcohol flowed freely. She occasionally smelled it on the breath of male lawmakers when they voted.

Many men in Australian politics also thought nothing of belittling women, she said, or spreading sexual rumors. More than a few treated junior employees like playthings. Once, Ms. Banks said, a fellow lawmaker introduced a new intern while slowly rubbing his hand up and down the young woman’s back.

“I could see her visibly flinch,” Ms. Banks said. “She and I locked eyes, and I’m sure the nonverbal cue to me was ‘don’t say anything, please don’t say anything, I’ll lose my job.’”

“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” she added.

Australia’s #MeToo moment has arrived, late but strong, like a tsunami directed at the country’s political foundation. Six weeks after a former legislative staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused a senior colleague of raping her in the defense minister’s office, thousands of women are standing up to share their stories, march for justice and demand change.

finishing a book about bias, said she encountered the low hum of disrespect at one of her first fund-raisers, where she discovered she was not on the speakers’ list. It was all men.

from 15th to 50th in the world for parliamentary gender diversity. The parliamentary delegations of the conservative Liberal and National parties, which govern with a slim majority, are more than 80 percent male.

Contributing to the fraternity vibe, Canberra is a part-time capital. Votes are often called after 6 p.m., and families are left behind in local districts, since the legislature only sits for 20 weeks a year. When it’s busy, Parliament has often been compared to a gentleman’s club, though to some, it’s more Peter Pan at the pub.

Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens party senator, said male rivals would often shout across the chamber the names of men she was falsely accused of sleeping with.

“It was like a game these blokes were playing with just the most intense level of scorn,” she told Ms. Ellis for her book “Sex, Lies and Question Time.”

Ms. Hanson-Young sued a Senate colleague, David Leyonhjelm, for defamation after he shouted “stop shagging men” at her on the floor of the chamber in 2018. She recently won a $120,000 judgment against him but endured death threats along the way.

apologized and removed the article. But the story went viral, and Ms. Husar said she was forced by her party to step aside and not run again in 2019.

Ms. Ellis called the story about Ms. Husar “weaponized gossip.” She said she had a near miss when a reporter almost wrote about a lie making the rounds, that she and her chief of staff were sleeping with the same man.

Women said the message from their bosses was always clear: Secrets are for insiders, and don’t bother trying to find the truth.

“There has been this sort of ‘do know, don’t tell’ policy,” said Professor Chappell at the University of New South Wales. “The bubble analogy works — everyone who’s in there was keeping the secrets.”

have since come forward with accusations in the news media against the same man. (He was fired after the alleged attack on Ms. Higgins but has not been publicly identified.)

The women’s collective claims broke the stalemate. Women in Parliament and others who had recently left called for accountability. Tens of thousands of women marched all over Australia on March 4 to demand justice, inspired by Ms. Higgins and angered by accusations against Christian Porter, then the attorney general.

Just a day earlier, as news reports emerged of an unidentified cabinet minister accused of sexual assault, Mr. Porter had named himself as the suspect. He publicly denied the allegation — made by a woman who said he raped her when they were teenagers — and refused to resign.

masturbating onto the desks of female ministers. One of them has been fired.

A Liberal lawmaker was accused of harassing two female constituents. He agreed not to run again and apologized, but Mr. Morrison has come under fire for not making him resign.

Many women are also angry at the prime minister for protecting Mr. Porter, whom he recently moved from his role as attorney general into a new cabinet position.

And more women are resisting a return to business as usual.

Last week, Dr. Anne Webster, a new member of Parliament with the conservative National Party, said a male lawmaker had sexually harassed her. That kind of thing might once have been ignored, but she filed a formal complaint with party leadership, prompting the man to apologize.

“That’s what Australians expect of us now,” she said.

“Inch by inch, culture changes,” she added. “All of us are learning; all of us are adjusting to a new platform.”

View Source

France’s Outspoken Student Union Positions Itself at the Vanguard of Change

PARIS — A powerful government minister recently condemned it as an organization whose activities are racist and could lead to “fascism.” Lawmakers accused it of promoting “separatism” and of aligning with “Islamo-leftism” before demanding its dissolution.

France’s 114-year-old university student union, Unef, has a long history of drawing the ire of the political establishment — most notably over the years when it lobbied for the independence of the country’s most important colony, Algeria, or took to the streets against employment contracts for youths.

But the recent harsh attacks zeroed in on something that resonates just as deeply in a France struggling to adapt to social change: its practice of limiting some meetings to racial minorities to discuss discrimination.

In recent days, the controversy over Unef — its French acronym standing for the National Union of Students of France — spilled into a third week, melding with larger explosive debates roiling the country.

endorsed banning the group and others that organize restricted meetings, attaching a “Unef amendment” to President Emmanuel Macron’s law against Islamism, a political ideology the government blames for inspiring recent terrorist attacks. The National Assembly, controlled by Mr. Macron’s party, still needs to ratify the bill, expected to be one of the defining pieces of legislation of his presidency.

French Academy or literary prize juries, are structured in ways that stifle change.

The union’s transformation has reflected widespread changes among French youths who have much more relaxed attitudes toward gender, race, sexual orientation and, as recent polls have shown, religion and France’s strict secularism, known as laïcité.

Unef’s change — some hope and others fear — may portend larger social change.

“We scare people because we represent the future,’’ said Mélanie Luce, 24, Unef’s president and the daughter of a Black woman from Guadeloupe and a Jewish man from southern France.

In an organization dominated by white men until just a few years ago, Unef’s current leadership shows a diversity rarely seen in France. Ms. Luce is only its fifth female president and the first who is not white. Its four other top leaders include two white men, a woman whose parents converted to Islam, and a Muslim man whose parents immigrated from Tunisia.

interview about Unef’s practice of holding meetings limited to racial minorities.

threats.

In a subsequent radio interview of his own, the national education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, agreed with the host’s characterization of the restricted meetings as racist.

“People who claim to be progressive and who, in claiming to be progressive, distinguish people by the color of their skin are leading us to things that resemble fascism,” Mr. Blanquer said.

Mr. Blanquer has led the government’s broader pushback against what he and conservative intellectuals describe as the threat from progressive American ideas on race, gender and postcolonialism.

France’s culture wars have heated up as Mr. Macron shifts to the right to fend off a looming challenge from the far right before elections next year. His government recently announced that it would investigate universities for “Islamo-leftist” tendencies that “corrupt society.”

interview with a French newspaper.

Mr. Blanquer declined interview requests, as did Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education.

Aurore Bergé, a lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party, said that Unef’s actions lead to identity politics that, instead of uniting people in a common cause, excludes all but “those who suffer from discrimination.”

“We’re driving out the others as if they don’t have the right of expression,” said Ms. Bergé, who recently unsuccessfully submitted an amendment that would have barred Muslim minors from wearing the veil in public.

Unef’s current top leaders say that in focusing on discrimination, they are fighting for France’s ideals of liberty, equality and human rights.

They view the recent attacks as rear-guard moves by an establishment that refuses to squarely face deep-rooted discrimination in France, cannot come to terms with the growing diversity of its society, and brandishes universalism to silence new ideas and voices, out of fear.

youth employment contract in 2006. Back then, the union was more concerned with issues like tuition and access to jobs, said Mr. Julliard, the first openly gay president of the union.

Mr. Julliard said that the union’s restricted meetings and its opposition to the Aeschylus play left him uncomfortable, but that young people were now “much more sensitive, in the good sense of the word,” to all forms of discrimination.

“We have to let each generation lead its battles and respect the way it does it, though it doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion,” he said.

William Martinet, a former president, said that the focus on gender eventually led to an examination of racism. While Unef’s top leaders tended to be economically comfortable white men from France’s “grandes écoles,” or prestigious universities, many of its grass-roots activists were of working-class, immigrant and nonwhite backgrounds.

Maryam Pougetoux, now one of the union’s two vice presidents.

“I don’t think that if I’d arrived 10 years earlier, I would have been felt as welcome as in 2017,” Ms. Pougetoux said.

But the reception was far different on the outside.

Last fall, when a hijab-wearing Ms. Pougetoux appeared in the National Assembly to testify on the Covid epidemic’s impact on students, four lawmakers, including one from Mr. Macron’s party, walked out in protest.

The wearing of the Muslim veil has fueled divisions in France for more than a generation. But for Unef, the issue was now settled.

Its leaders had long considered the veil a symbol of female oppression. Now they saw it simply as a choice left to women.

“To really defend the condition of women,” said Adrien Liénard, the other vice president, “is, in fact, giving them the right to do what they want.”

View Source

Women Are Calling Out ‘Rape Culture’ in U.K. Schools

LONDON — For weeks, the harrowing anonymous testimonies have poured in, one after another.

Accusations of sexual assault of girls as young as 9. Girls shamed by classmates after intimate photos were circulated without their consent. One girl was blamed by classmates after she reported being raped at a party.

On a platform called Everyone’s Invited, thousands of young women and girls in Britain have recently been sharing frank accounts of sexual violence, sexism and misogyny during their time as students — accusations of everything including criminal sexual attacks to coercive encounters to verbal harassment to unwanted touching — offering raw and unfiltered discussions of their personal trauma.

But when taken together, the accusations paint a troubling picture of widespread sexual violence by students both within the school walls and outside, particularly at parties. In addition to reports of violence, the accounts also included claims of sexism and misogyny.

“This is a real problem,” said Soma Sara, the 22-year-old Londoner who founded Everyone’s Invited. “Rape culture is real.”

killing of Sarah Everard, whose abduction from a London street in early March set off a national conversation about violence women face.

Schools, local and national officials have begun investigations. On Wednesday, the government tasked an education body with conducting an immediate review of safeguarding policies in both public and private schools.

Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council leader for child protection, told the BBC on Monday, “We have a real problem here.”

A helpline will be launched on Thursday, and criminal allegations investigated, the Department of Education said. London’s Metropolitan Police encouraged victims to report crimes to the authorities.

While the accounts omit the names of both victims and perpetrators, they identify the schools the students attended, whether the alleged assaults took place on school grounds or elsewhere. Some were prestigious private schools that soon made headlines.

Dulwich College, King’s College School, Highgate School, Latymer Upper School and more — have now written open letters to school leaders by name, detailing a culture of silence and victim blaming. In one instance, a former student said she was discouraged from taking legal action in a sexual assault case. In another, girls described being groped in a school hallway.

King’s College School and Highgate School issued statements saying they have begun independent reviews of the accusations and school policies, and Latymer Upper School said it had encouraged students to come to school authorities directly. Some of the schools named did not respond directly to requests for comment, but in local news reports similarly said they were taking the matter seriously and investigating in some cases.

Accusations of sexual abuse are not the province only of elite prep schools. Dozens of schools, universities and state-run schools have been named, though testimonies received after March 23 no longer identify the institutions. The thousands of stories speak to a pervasive problem facing young women and girls, Ms. Sara said, adding she hoped the focus on certain prominent schools would not distract attention from the bigger issues.

“If we point the finger at a person, at a place, at a demographic, you’re actually making it seem like these cases are rare or just anomalies, when really, they’re not rare,” she said.

collectively to bear the burden of ensuring safety.

It was against this backdrop that Ms. Sara posed a question this month on the Everyone’s Invited Instagram account and website she started last year, as she grappled with her own experiences of sexual violence while a student.

She asked if others had experienced sexual violence during their school years or knew someone who had. Nearly every respondent said yes.

While the accounts vary, and are anonymous and unverified, the sheer numbers — more than 11,500 and counting — could not easily be ignored. When she shared the accounts, Ms. Sara withheld the names of the victims and the accused, but not the schools they attended.

recommendation to do just that after a 2016 inquiry.

“We need a better inspection regime, we need to have a proper inquiry, we need the government to actually be collecting the data — they’re not actually currently collecting this data anywhere,” Ms. Phillips said.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said in a statement that the accusations were “shocking and abhorrent” and that they must be dealt with properly.

“While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward,” he said.

Government agencies and the police are in contact with Everyone’s Invited to provide support to those who are reporting abuse.

Sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults often go unreported worldwide, so crime data can give only a partial picture of the scale of the problem. But in Britain other statistics show that sexual violence against school-age girls and young women is endemic.

were even more likely to be sexually assaulted.

A new survey from Plan International UK, a children’s charity, showed that 58 percent of girls ages 14 to 21 in Britain have been publicly sexually harassed in their learning environments.

national conversation about violence against women, Chanel Contos, 23, started an online petition in February that included thousands of testimonies of sexual violence among students.

The petition called for an overhaul of sex education with a holistic, early and consent-based approach and is being discussed in the Australian Parliament.

“The fact that two girls on opposite sides of the world, who didn’t know each other, experienced the exact same thing,” is telling, Ms. Contos said in an interview.

Dr. Gill, the criminology professor in London, pointed out that conversations about rape culture in institutions — or environments where attitudes or behavior about gender and sexuality have the effect of normalizing and trivializing sexual violence, like assault or rape — are not new. Successive waves of the feminist movement have called attention to it, she said.

But schools have a duty to safeguard students, she said, from creating safe spaces for victims of sexual violence to come forward to educating other students about their behavior.

“How do they teach choice?” Dr. Gill said. “How do they teach respect? How do they encourage young people to build healthy relationships?”

She noted that sex education curriculum should focus on intersectionality and consent. “I think there’s an opportunity now for transformative change.”

View Source

Sherry Vill is latest to accuse Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct

Sherry Vill remembers feeling embarrassed and stuck as the New York governor Andrew Cuomo “manhandled” her and came onto her in her own home, in front of her husband and son.

“He towered over me,” she said during a press conference on Monday. “There was nothing I could do.”

Vill, 55, met Cuomo in May 2017, when he visited her suburban house near Rochester, New York, while surveying flooding damage in the area. Hers is the latest in a series of allegations detailing a pattern of sexual misconduct by the now infamous chief of state.

Vill recalled Cuomo holding her hand, forcibly grabbing her face, aggressively kissing her cheeks and calling her beautiful. The unwanted advances made her uncomfortable, especially around her family and neighbors.

She later received a letter and pictures from the governor, addressed only to her, and a personal invitation to attend one of his local events.

“The whole thing was so strange and inappropriate, and still makes me nervous and afraid because of his power and position,” Vill said.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a request for comment, but his administration has so far generally denied any inappropriate touching by the governor despite a swathe of accusations from multiple women about his behavior.

Letitia James, New York attorney general, has now tapped a former acting US attorney and an employment discrimination lawyer to probe the sexual harassment allegations, while many of the state’s high-profile Democrats have already said that Cuomo should resign.

“Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York,” said Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a joint statement earlier this month.

Cuomo is also facing widespread criticism for how he handled the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, despite once being heralded as a hero and Democratic darling.

His administration is currently being investigated for how it reported nursing home deaths from Covid-19 and is under fire for prioritizing Cuomo’s family members for then hard-to-access coronavirus tests.

Another woman, Anna Ruch, previously described a similar experience to Vill’s in 2019, when she said Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back, touched her face and asked to kiss her.

Multiple current and former aides have now outlined inappropriate interactions with the governor, even as he publicly admonished the “pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment” and ardently defended workplace protections amid the #MeToo movement.

Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official, published an essay in February about how she felt Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs”. She recalled a number of his vulgar comments – including a suggestion that they play strip poker – and described her shock when, during a visit to his office, he kissed her on the lips.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected,” Boylan wrote. “His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right.”

Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy advisor in her 20s, told the New York Times that she felt Cuomo – who asked her invasive and pointed questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever slept with older men – was grooming her for a sexual relationship.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Alyssa McGrath, who works for the governor’s office, says Cuomo mixes “flirtatious banter with more personal comments”, and recounted one time when she caught him peeping down her shirt, the New York Times reported.

Another current aide, who has remained anonymous, accused Cuomo of fondling her under her blouse at his executive mansion – conduct that could result in a misdemeanor sexual assault charge, according to the Albany Times Union.

View Source

Australian Leader Demotes Lawmakers Amid Scandals

SYDNEY—Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demoted two senior lawmakers as he tried to contain the political fallout from scandals that helped to bring tens of thousands of women out to protest the government’s handling of sexual-assault allegations.

Mr. Morrison said he would increase the number of women in his leadership team and would lead a task force with foreign minister Marise Payne to shape policy on women’s issues, including safety and equality.

The new 23-member cabinet will include seven women, up from six women in the previous 22-person leadership team. Mr. Morrison also committed to promoting more women to other government roles.

Christian Porter will be removed from his position as attorney general, while Linda Reynolds will be removed as defense minister, Mr. Morrison said in a press conference. Both will remain in the cabinet, in lesser roles. The changes follow a crisis within the government that has cast a spotlight on the country’s politics and handling of harassment and sexual-assault complaints.

Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter, shown on March 3 in Perth, will be removed from his post.

Photo: stefan gosatti/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Porter is accused of committing rape 33 years ago, an allegation that he denies. Mr. Porter has said he was 17 in 1988 when the rape is alleged to have taken place, and only briefly knew the complainant. He said she was 16 at the time. The allegation was reported in February by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC, without naming Mr. Porter, before the attorney general identified himself as the accused.

His accuser died by suicide last year shortly after deciding not to proceed with a police complaint, according to police, who have said there isn’t enough admissible evidence to pursue criminal charges.

Mr. Porter said that he couldn’t continue in the role as attorney general because he has launched defamation proceedings against the ABC, which is fighting the lawsuit. He will be succeeded as attorney general by Michaelia Cash, whose new role as the country’s top law officer includes completing the government’s response to recommendations made last year by a national inquiry into sexual harassment.

The removal of Ms. Reynolds comes several weeks after she called a former female staff member, Brittany Higgins, who had previously made a claim of rape against a former male colleague, a “lying cow.” Ms. Reynolds has apologized and retracted the comment, which she said was made privately. She had previously said the comment referred to the way Ms. Higgins’s claims had been reported in the media, and not her rape allegation.

Mr. Morrison said the decision to move Ms. Reynolds from the position of minister of Defense was based on medical advice, as she has been receiving treatment for a health problem. Ms. Reynolds couldn’t be reached for comment.

“These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up, while maintaining the momentum and the continuity and the stability that Australia needs as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and recession,” Mr. Morrison said on Monday. Days earlier, he had criticized a “longstanding culture of despicable behavior” in Parliament, and said lawmakers from all parties must fix it.

Mr. Morrison’s initial response to the sexual-assault allegations, such as resisting calls for an independent inquiry into the allegation against Mr. Porter, was criticized as inadequate by protesters who marched in the tens of thousands in cities and towns nationwide over two days this month. The prime minister drew further criticism when he said the women protesting outside Parliament House were fortunate to be doing so in Australia when demonstrations in Myanmar were “being met with bullets.”

Mr. Morrison has taken firmer action on new allegations of sexual misconduct involving Parliamentary staff and lawmakers, which were made in recent days. An unnamed government staff member was fired for committing a lewd act on the desk of a female lawmaker, also unidentified, said Mr. Morrison. Mr. Morrison said Andrew Laming, one of his party’s lawmakers, won’t contest the next election after he was accused of repeatedly harassing two women online. Mr. Laming, who last week apologized in Parliament for his communication with the women, couldn’t be reached for comment on his election plans.

“I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I have not heard them, and that greatly distresses me,” Mr. Morrison said in a March 23 press conference. He also said that his language about the protests could have been different, and that he had meant no offense.

An opinion poll released Monday put voters’ satisfaction with Mr. Morrison’s performance at its lowest level in a year, eroding all gains from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Janine Hendry, a Melbourne-based academic who helped to organize this month’s protests, said it is unclear how the shuffle of Mr. Morrison’s leadership team would stop the abuse of women or address issues such as gender equity.

Mr. Morrison said he expected Mr. Porter to continue serving in his cabinet, including after the next election, which must be held by May 2022. Ms. Reynolds will now be responsible for government services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a cabinet role.

Marian Sawer, a political scientist and emeritus professor at Australian National University, suggested Parliament introduce a code of conduct, set up an independent body to handle complaints, and conduct mandatory training on how to prevent harassment.

“It’s high time we caught up with comparable Parliaments in Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., that have been quicker to take action on these shared problems,” she said.

Australia has fallen behind other countries in the proportion of women in legislatures. It ranks 50th, alongside Croatia and behind Zimbabwe, for women’s representation, according to data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based international organization of national Parliaments. Two decades ago, it had ranked 21st.

Over the past decade, several female leaders, including Julia Gillard, who was the country’s first female prime minister, have called out male colleagues in Parliament for their behavior. On one occasion, Ms. Gillard’s main political opponent stood outside Parliament next to a sign stating “Ditch the Witch.”

Before this month’s protest marches, a conversation was building about sexual assault and misogyny in Australian society. That was partly in evidence when an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame, was named Australian of the Year. The award is bestowed by the National Australia Day Council, a not-for-profit government-owned social enterprise, on a citizen each year as part of the celebrations surrounding Australia Day.

A 2018 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which is funded by the government but operates independently, found that almost one-quarter of Australian women said they had been a victim of rape or attempted rape on at least one occasion.

“I think having a lot of women’s voices in the public domain is positive, and could be a turning point,” said Kristin Diemer, a sociologist and associate professor at the University of Melbourne. “For survivors to have a platform to speak about their experience, I think, is a change in the current situation in Australia.”

Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at rhiannon.hoyle@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

View Source