As sexual harassment accusations led to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation on Tuesday, the scandal has now spread into the respected Time’s Up organization, with critics saying the mission of the advocacy group needs to be reexamined after the revelation that members of its leadership helped Cuomo strategize his response to accusers.
The resignation on Monday of Time’s Up board co-chair Roberta Kaplan came after a collective cry of indignation by a group of 47 survivors over the fact that she and Time’s Up President Tina Tchen were named in an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James for aiding Cuomo and his office on how to respond to the accusations — and retaliate against accusers.
But several survivors told TheWrap that Kaplan’s resignation is not enough to repair what’s wrong with Time’s Up, which they say has not only been tainted by the Cuomo connection, but has gotten distracted by non-harassment-related issues like racial equity at the Golden Globes and even Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney over profit participation on “Black Widow.”
“We must see the removal of anybody who supported perpetrators of harm,” said Alison Turkos, an organizer of the survivor group that published the open letter. “I think it is quite abysmal. They are not actually speaking to anything the survivor community asked for.”
“If the focus is not on sexual assault survivors then that kind of begs the question … who is exclusively fighting on our behalf?” said Louise Godbold, executive director of trauma and resilience for the nonprofit Echo, who has accused disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. “If it’s not Time’s Up — and I understand, with my own nonprofit our mission evolved, it happens — then who is working on behalf of survivors? There needs to be a reassessment, and if the de facto mission is different to the stated mission, then that needs to be realigned.”
Godbold and others said that Time’s Up needs to reassess its mission and return to its core reason for existing.
In the open letter to Time’s Up, survivors also called on the nonprofit to launch an investigation into which of its board and staff members have been approached by individuals accused of sexual assault or harassment — and what if anything they have done to advise or assist them. Kaplan’s resignation was prompted by the revelation in James’ report that Kaplan had advised Cuomo about a draft of a letter seeking to discredit one of his 11 accusers, Lindsey Boylan. (The letter was never sent.)
Turkos said that the organization has yet to address any of the concerns in the open letter, which was co-signed by a community of 47 members, including former Time’s Up staff members, clients of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and state assembly members.
The letter outlined eight demands, among them that Time’s Up should launch a third-party investigation to detail the full extent to which its board and staff members have been “approached by, offered advice to, or are representing perpetrators of harm.” It also called on the organization to remove any board members or staffers who have supported perpetrators of harm immediately, as well as to reject and return any donations from individuals and corporations that have any been accused of sexual harassment, assault or are litigating in opposition to survivors.
But Turkos said Time’s Up response and statements have been a disappointment, and that the organization is continuing to “sideswipe” the proposal for an investigation.
Several also questioned Kaplan and Tchen’s past work as Democratic Party activists, wondering whether they can be unbiased in handling allegations against public figures from the left. Tchen was previously a former assistant of President Barack Obama and served as chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama. She also led the White House Council on Women and Girls as its executive director.
Tchen, along with her board, said in a statement Monday that Time’s Up is working to address the concerns of survivors. “The events of the last week have made it clear that our process should be evaluated and we intend to do just that. We need more transparency about our vision of change-making, and we need a more inclusive process to engage the broader survivor community, many of whom have spent years doing the noble work of fighting for women,” Tchen said in a statement.
“As an entire organization we are going to take time and evaluate how we best do this collectively or as individuals. We are working with our team on how we show up in this next phase of this work. We will seek engagement with survivor communities, allies and critics alike. And we will share our intentions.”
Time’s Up declined to comment further.
Time’s Up was founded in 2018 by some of the most high-profile Hollywood women following the Harvey Weinstein scandals and the rising #MeToo movement. Some of those women included Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Oprah Winfrey. In 2020, the organization raised some $24 million in donations and connected thousands of sexual harassment victims with legal services.
Kaplan, who is also co-founder of the separate Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said in her resignation letter that “recent events have made it clear that even our apparent allies in the fight to advance women can turn out to be abusers. We have felt the raw, personal and profound pain of that betrayal. It has raised important questions about how and why Times Up does what it does, as well as demands on the part of advocates and staff for a kind of radical transparency.”
As a survivor of rape, Turkos said she was initially hopeful about Time’s Up as a support organization for survivors. But despite all the money and power backing them, what the organization said it represented and what it did in reality painted two different pictures. “They had so much money, and then it never happened,” Turkos said. “I hope to see a broader conversation to truly center survivors in your work, what it means to live and operationalize your values, and to have deeper conversation around survivor-led work.”
Similarly, Godbold, a trauma expert, said that while she agrees that Kaplan’s resignation was the right decision, she hopes the organization can come up with better strategies to address survivors’ frustrations. She backed the open letter’s proposed reforms, including a Survivor Advisory Council.
This is not the first time Time’s Up has been in the hot seat over its actions. In March, at least six co-founding members of Time’s Up Healthcare have resigned in protest after board member Dr. Esther Choo was accused of trying to silence a woman who reported sexual harassment at her hospital in Oregon.
Turkos, who works on campaigns supporting survivors, said she uses her experience with reporting and filing sexual assault lawsuits to help other victims. She said she gets frequent messages from survivors asking her for help to navigate the legal system and beyond. “Where can survivors turn to for love and affirmation? Right now that organization does not exist. Right now that is in my DM, with people reaching out to me,” Turkos said.
Aarohi Sheth contributed to this report.
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