In New York this week, predators lost one more weapon to silence survivors of sex crimes.
Calling a woman’s statements a “straightforward account of events” delivered in a “succinct and restrained” manner, a New York Appeals Court said that an alleged sex predator could not sue a woman, who he allegedly assaulted, for defamation. The ruling continued, stating that such a lawsuit “has the effect of emboldening sexual assaulters who seek to weaponize the legal system in order to silence their victims.”
This ruling is a huge victory for survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault nationwide.
The Appeals Court decision was made in response to a defamation lawsuit filed by former Brooklyn assistant district attorney, Chrismy Sagaille, who was accused of sexual assault by a female reporter for the New York Daily News. A month before the case was scheduled to go to trial, Sagaille sued the alleged victim for defamation, possibly in order to sway a jury. The criminal case ended in a hung jury and mistrial.
Now, because of the Appeals Court ruling, the defamation case has been thrown out.
Sex crimes go tremendously underreported. The U.S. Department of Justice states that only 25% of sex crimes against adults are reported to police. For child sexual abuse, this number is much lower. Even after reporting, survivors face more hurdles. In fact, statistics show that child and protective service agencies are only able to investigate approximately 55% of the few reports of child sexual abuse they receive.
In other words, the majority of survivors are used to not being heard and believed. Add to that the fear of a lawsuit from the person who abused them, and many survivors will spend a lifetime in silence and shame.
We have worked with thousands of child sexual abuse survivors during the past 40 years, and, unfortunately, fear of retribution from those responsible has kept many of them from coming forward sooner. Our hope is that this ruling empowers survivors everywhere to report to law enforcement and civil authorities without fear of reprisals from perpetrators.
No survivor of child sexual abuse should ever fear that the person who abused them will seek retribution. Fortunately, in addition to this ruling, victims of sex crimes have court protections that give them increased levels of confidentiality and privacy. An excellent example of this is a survivor’s ability to come forward in civil court as a John Doe or Jane Doe, because the courts recognize that survivors are more likely to come forward and expose abuse if they are allowed to do so safely and out of the public eye.
We believe that this ruling is a watershed moment for victims’ rights and another large step towards keeping all of our children and vulnerable adults safer from sexual violence.