Demanding survivors voices be heard: ERA challenges ruling in sexual assault case that completely excluded survivor

June 9. 2020
Jess Eagle, Strategic Communications Manager


Due process for survivors at risk with 600+ similar filings to potentially reopen old Title IX cases

When college student Jane Roe* was sexually assaulted five years ago by a fellow U.C. Santa Barbara student, she used her school’s Title IX complaint process to help her feel safe on campus afterward. The school’s thorough investigation process resulted in the assailant being suspended for three years — enough time for Jane to graduate before he returned to school.

But at the end of 2019, more than a year after Jane graduated, she was blindsided with the news that her assailant had taken her case to a California Superior Court two years prior. For over a year, the court had received testimony and evidence about Jane’s sexual assault and Title IX complaint without even notifying her, let alone hearing her side of the story or considering arguments in her favor. Unsurprisingly, the Court decided in favor of the assailant (John Doe), ordering U.C. Santa Barbara to throw out its original finding of sexual assault.

This morning (June 9, 2020) Equal Rights Advocates filed a motion on Jane’s behalf, with co-counsel Public Counsel and Steptoe and Johnson LLP, asking the court to vacate its order.

While respondents cry out for due process, they simultaneously rob survivors like Jane of the same. We are fighting to ensure Jane’s voice and all survivors’ voices are heard. — Brenda Adams, Senior Counsel for Education Equity & Litigation

“Once again, survivors of sexual assault are silenced, dismissed, and ignored,” said Brenda Adams, Senior Counsel for Equity Education and Litigation at Equal Rights Advocates. “The law requires survivors to be notified before a writ is granted, yet no one — not the court, the school, or the assailant — even told Jane about this case until more than a year after it was filed. While respondents cry out for due process, they simultaneously rob survivors like Jane of the same. We are fighting to ensure Jane’s voice and all survivors’ voices are heard.

Jane only recently learned that, after he was suspended, the assailant’s lawyers helped him file a petition for writ of mandate asking the California Superior Court to throw out the school’s finding of sexual assault that led to his suspension. Although she was still enrolled full time at school when this filing happened, none of the school officials who were involved in the court case notified Jane. Neither did the court, which made its decision without having all the information necessary to do so fairly or justly.

If the court’s order goes forward unchallenged, Jane’s case could suddenly reopen. Like Jane, many witnesses have graduated, the investigator is no longer employed by the school, and the witnesses and investigators who are still there would be asked to recall details from five years ago. Additionally, new harmful federal regulations to Title IX that are set to go into effect in August would subject Jane to a direct cross-examination about the sexual assault by an advisor of the assailant’s choice, which could be his friend, parent, or lawyer.

Nationally, more than 600 similar cases have been filed by Title IX respondents since 2013, asking courts to throw out schools’ findings of sexual assault, with the highest percentage of any state filed in California (18%). 

Continued below.

“Title IX was enacted to ensure equal access to education for all students, regardless of gender,” said Amanda Savage, staff attorney with Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “Overturning the outcomes of Title IX proceedings without any notice to student survivors undermines the law’s very purpose. Knowing that they will ultimately be excluded and subjected to further trauma, student survivors are less likely to initiate Title IX proceedings and protect their educational rights.” 

Whether the court grants or denies Jane’s motion, if either party appeals, the appellate court’s decision could result in setting legal precedent in California, which educates 672,458 students each year.

Jane, who has her own reputation to defend, is extremely concerned about the safety of women on campus with her assailant likely returning to school in November, 2020. She’s fighting to protect women at U.C. Barbara, to enforce her legal right to be notified about the case, and to be heard, rights which she was completely denied. 

“All interested parties except Jane were notified, heard from, and involved,” said Brenda Adams. “The collective decision on the part of the assailant, the school, and the court to exclude Jane sends a message to her and other survivors: ‘Your input, your perspective, and your experience are not important to us in deciding what happens to you.’ It’s offensive and a blatant violation of our legal principles that we cannot allow. Survivors have been through enough. They deserve better from our justice system.” 

*Survivor’s real name protected.

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