Michael Dolce knows all too well the stigma that often muzzles victims of sexual assault, having been abused as a young boy.
The Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC attorney told Law360 he stayed silent for nearly 30 years before publicly disclosing what he’d suffered in a 2007 testimony to a Florida Senate committee.
“It’s frightening,” he told Law360. “The world changes when you make a disclosure like this.”
But while Dolce voluntarily made that decision as part of a successful campaign to erase the state’s statutes of limitations for prosecuting child sex abuse, one of his clients faces exposure of a more threatening nature — the prospect of being forced to reveal her identity in ongoing Title IX litigation against her former school, Florida A&M University.
The woman, identified as S.B. in court filings, has accused the school of failing to properly investigate three alleged rapes she reported while on campus. Her 2016 complaint stated she used initials to “protect her privacy [and] to encourage similarly situated rape victims to seek redress.”
The school knows her real name but has repeatedly sought to get that name inserted in public record. It argues the use of a pseudonym could indicate to a jury that she was actually raped — an implication FAMU says “is a factual determination to be made at trial.”
Though a Florida federal judge has twice rejected the university’s bids to expose her real name, FAMU docketed an appeal over the issue at the Eleventh Circuit last month.
FAMU has made a similar argument, despite the fact that its Title IX office promises anonymity to those reporting discrimination. Outraged, Dolce and his co-counsel penned a letter to state legislators on May 30, imploring them to investigate FAMU’s attempts to expose their client’s identity in public.
“Survivors who find the courage to report must be empowered, always, to control their privacy in the interest of their mental health,” they wrote. “They should not have to choose between that and pursuing justice.”
Dolce said FAMU’s appeal jeopardizes the availability of pseudonyms as an access to justice tool for those who might not otherwise come forward.
“Many people are too scared to report if they’re not guaranteed anonymity,” he said. “For the next 12 to 18 months, I personally would not be able to guarantee a survivor’s anonymity — the law is now uncertain by definition.”
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