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A new remedy for some sexual misconduct cases: defamation suits

by | Jan 29, 2018 | Sexual Harassment


The #MeToo movement has brought allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault against any number of powerful men. Unfortunately, too much time has passed, in some cases, for legal remedies to be effective. The most common legal remedies for sexual misconduct have time limits, and victims who have been intimidated into silence may lose their ability to pursue them as time passes.

The actions most misconduct victims take include filing criminal charges and lawsuits. When the conduct is illegal, criminal charges can be filed. If touching occurred, survivors can file civil lawsuits for sexual assault or battery, regardless of whether criminal charges were filed or whether the perpetrator was convicted.

If the misconduct occurred at work, victims also have the right to seek redress through their employers. If an employer fails to resolve credible, serious allegations, a victim can file a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

These options all depend on taking legal action before the statute of limitations has passed. Different laws and causes of action have different statutes of limitations, which may also vary state to state. Statutes of limitations for sexual assault may be longer, while violations of federal workplace discrimination laws may need to be reported to a federal agency within timeframes as short as 180, or even 45, days. There are some situations, however, in which statutes of limitation are “tolled,” meaning that you may have more time to file than the statute implies. Statutes of limitations are one of the most important aspects of a potential claim to discuss with an attorney in order to fully understand your legal options.

The #MeToo movement has resulted in another remedy coming to the forefront. When an alleged perpetrator calls a complaining survivor a liar, the survivor may be able to file a defamation lawsuit.

Statutes of limitation for defamation vary by state, too. In New York, for example, the statute of limitations for defamation is only one year. However, that year is from the date on which the alleged defamation occurred, not the time of the sexual misconduct. This allows some survivors an opportunity to bring their abusers to court even after the statute of limitations for other claims has passed.

There are already examples of sexual misconduct and assault survivors suing their alleged abusers for defamation. Such actions have been brought against former Senate candidate Roy Moore, Bill Cosby, former Fox news anchor Bill O’Reilly and President Donald Trump.

This strategy isn’t new, as defamation law has always been available as a tool for victims of sexual misconduct. What has changed is that the #MeToo movement has revealed numerous high-profile and egregious allegations. Those individuals accused of harassment and assault often resort to disparaging the victim, which sets the stage for a defamation suit.

There are potential downsides to using defamation lawsuits for this purpose. The damages available are often lower than in cases alleging sexual assault or battery. Plus, the accused may also file a defamation suit against the victim. Still, a defamation lawsuit may offer some measure of justice when other options are no longer available. If you have been the victim of sexual misconduct, assault or harassment, or if you have been disparaged for speaking out, you have rights. Speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to explore your legal options.

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