TRENTON – From mid-morning to mid-afternoon Tuesday, Katie Brennan offered vivid and at times gripping testimony about being sexually assaulted by a man who still was able to land an important job in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
A very composed Brennan made a series of very significant observations and comments. But probably none was as meaningful as this one about how New Jersey officials look at rape allegations.
“I thought if any administration could make progressive reforms, it would be this one,” Brennan told a joint committee of senators and assembly members.
Who could blame her for thinking that?
Murphy arrived in Trenton as one of the most liberal governors in decades. Just look at how his agenda includes such progressive goals as sharply raising the minimum wage and legalizing recreational marijuana.
As for protecting women from sexual abuse, Brennan probably was listening in January of this year when First Lady Tammy Murphy told the crowd at a Women’s March in Morristown that she, too, had been sexually assaulted while in college.
But as we know, reforms in this area – progressive or not – have not been forthcoming, prompting Tuesday’s hearing. The state’s inaction also is a problem for Murphy’s administration, the magnitude of which remains to be seen.
There is not much these days that we have not heard about sexual assault. From Washington D.C. to Hollywood to the National Football League and many places in between, powerful men have been charged with having their way with women.
The cases are different, but so many times the facts mirror each other. Brennan essentially made that point when she said the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office elected not to file charges in her case, because, “They didn’t think people would believe me.”
Those are Brennan’s words, and not those of the prosecutor’s office, but the point is well taken. Just why would she not be believed?
Brennan in chronological order related what did – and did not – happen after she said she was raped by Al Alvarez in Jersey City in the early morning hours of April 8, 2017. Both had been involved with what was then Murphy’s election campaign for governor.
Brennan, whose husband was working in Sweden at the time, confided in a few friends and reported the attack to both the Jersey City Police and the county prosecutor’s office. Months went by and on Dec.1 of last year, the prosecutor’s office told Brennan it would not file charges against Alvarez.
Prior to that, Brennan also said she had talked to Murphy campaign officials about the incident. Time moved on. Murphy was elected in the fall of 2017 and a transition team was put together. Brennan said the team knew of the allegation against Alvarez.
No matter, when Murphy took office, Alvarez got a job as chief of staff for the Schools Development Authority. Brennan also joined the administration in a similar role with the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Brennan testified that she talked to the state’s chief counsel and finally, on June 1 of this year, sent a private email to Murphy and his wife. The message referred only to a “sensitive matter” dating back to the campaign. The governor promptly replied, telling Brennan to “hang in” and that, “We’re on it.”
Not so. In fact, the only substantive thing that happened around that time was that Brennan was told Alvarez was leaving his job. But he did not. At least not then.
Brennan ultimately took her case to the Wall Street Journal, which published a story about the allegations in October. That’s when Alvarez left his job.
This episode raises so many questions.
Why did the prosecutor’s office not take the case? (That is now under review by another agency, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office).
Why was Alvarez still given a job?
Why was Brennan told Alvarez was leaving when he really was not?
What specifically did Murphy do after receiving Brennan’s email?
As Brennan said, “At each turn that I told an official, I thought that would be enough.”
The committee’s job is to answer those questions, and perhaps it will.
But the committee likely will be unable to answer the larger question.
In an era when so much more attention is rightly being paid to sexual abuse, why do some of those in power still seem to ignore it? And as we see in this case. this has nothing to do with politics. Not taking sexual abuse allegations seriously is a very bipartisan type of thing.
There is another point here that can’t be forgotten. Brennan is not a nobody. While not known in New Jersey when this episode began, she had enough political ties to personally contact the governor through his private email. And enough status to require a formal legislative committee hearing.
How many people in the state can do that?
So as Brennan said, what recourse is there for a so-called average woman who allegedly gets sexually assaulted by a politico in New Jersey?