There’s a reason most survivors of sexual assault never report the crime. Many of those who do report it go by Jane Doe to protect their identity and avoid some of the abuse and death threats that get aimed at anyone who claims they were sexually assaulted.
Regardless of what the survivors of sexual assault are made to endure, society is generally more sympathetic towards the accused and the possibility that the accusation will follow them around for the rest of their life.
The latest example of this is the recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court to allow a former Yale undergraduate student who was accused of rape to sue his accuser for defamation.
When he first filed his lawsuit against his accuser, who is going by Jane Doe to protect her identity, an attorney representing Doe said she was protected by absolute immunity under Title IX, which is the law under which she made her accusation.
But the former Yale student insisted he had the right to sue her, and the case made its way up the court system until it reached the Connecticut Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.
According to the state supreme court, Doe had qualified immunity, which allows the defamation lawsuit to go to trial, but requires the plaintiff to prove the defendant knew their statement was false or did not care that it was likely false at the time the alleged defamation occurred.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Doe would only have been granted absolute immunity if the Title IX proceedings had been quasi-judicial.
To qualify as quasi-judicial proceedings, they would have had to include Doe testifying under oath; the cross-examination of witnesses in real time; providing both parties the opportunity to present witnesses; allowing the accused to consult with an attorney; and providing the accused with a transcript or some other record of the hearing afterwards.
The problem with these requirements (especially the first two) is that it can be extremely difficult for survivors of sexual assault to relive their trauma by explaining it again and again on the stand.
Cross-examination of sexual assault survivors almost always means harassing them in an attempt to discredit them. They are frequently asked about their mental health, drug use, what they were wearing, etc. even when it is not relevant to the proceedings.
The Title IX case in question began in 2018. Since then, new rules have been added to Title IX requiring many of the controversial proceedings mentioned by the Connecticut Supreme Court in this case. As such, while this decision could set a dangerous precedent for Title IX cases prior to 2020, it is unlikely to have much of an effect on any new Title IX cases after that date.
The Biden administration is expected to once again overhaul Title IX to get rid of many of the regulations implemented by the Trump administration. Whether or not this state supreme court decision will have an effect on that has yet to be determined.
While the ability to file his defamation lawsuit is a win for this plaintiff, there is no guarantee he will win the case. Then again, legal experts have pointed out he doesn’t have to win that case. He just has to run out the clock and run up the legal bills until defending oneself becomes unsustainable.
At Lubin Austermuehle, we help clients navigate the complex laws and emotionally charged pathways to a court victory or settlement in slander and libel cases, as well as a vast range of other disputes from class action suits to breach of contract. We serve clients throughout Chicagoland from Waukegan, to Skokie and beyond. You can contact us online here or call us at 630-333-0333. Take advantage of our FREE consultation, where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them.