FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Concerned About Her Health and Broader Implications for Sex Crime Victims, Victim’s Lawyer Asks Florida Legislators to Investigate
Florida A&M University (FAMU) is trying to dodge a Title IX claim against the school by abusing Florida’s justice system to expose the identity of a rape victim who has invoked her right to remain anonymous, according to a letter sent today to Florida legislators by the victim’s attorneys. Despite a federal judge in Florida ruling twice already that there is no public interest in outing a rape victim, FAMU has now filed a third attempt to expose her identity. The school’s legal machinations not only risk causing mental health harm to a rape victim but could also have a chilling effect on the willingness of future rape victims to report crimes.
The letter to legislators, written by prominent civil rights attorneys Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, was sent to more than 40 members of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives. Recipients of the letter were chosen based upon their leadership positions involving oversight of the state public education system and prior efforts to combat sex crimes and support survivors. In the letter, the victim’s attorneys call for an investigation into FAMU’s attempts to expose a rape victim’s identity in public.
As the letter states:
“Survivors who find the courage to report what they endured must be empowered, at all times, to control their privacy in the interest of their mental health. They should not have to choose between that and pursuing justice,” write Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “Far too many survivors of sexual assault suffer grave mental health harm from loss of their privacy, up to and including self-destructive behavior.”
In September 2016, the victim brought a Title IX lawsuit against FAMU alleging that she was raped multiple times while enrolled as a student at the university but the school failed to adequately investigate the claims, failed to protect her from exposure to the rapists after each rape and failed to impose any significant consequences on the rapists. She filed her suit using only her initials, invoking her right to anonymity as a rape victim under Florida law.
The university has repeatedly tried to expose her identity, prompting even the judge in the case to express his concern. The first attempt occurred 10 months into the investigation, or around July 2017, when FAMU filed a motion to dismiss, insisting that the plaintiff reveal her real name in the public record in order to maintain her claims against the university. On February 5, 2018, the judge ruled against the university, upholding the plaintiff’s privacy interests and finding “absolutely no public interest in outing a rape victim in a Title IX case.” The Judge sealed all documents filed by FAMU with the Court that revealed plaintiff’s identity.
Despite that ruling, on June 8, 2018, FAMU then filed another motion asserting that the plaintiff’s name must be revealed publicly during the trial of the case. In March 2019, the judge again denied FAMU’s request to expose the plaintiff’s identity, finding no merit to FAMU’s concerns, writing: “FAMU does not seem to acknowledge the severity, seriousness, sensitivity, or personal nature of rape allegations.”
FAMU then filed a third attempt to expose the plaintiff’s identify on April 26, 2019 and a ruling on that motion is pending.
In addition to violating the rights of the individual rape victim, the letter also addresses the potential effects on future victims, noting:
“[W]e ask that all efforts be made to ensure that any future rape victims can report the crimes they have suffered without fear that, one day, FAMU or other state institutions will take steps to strip them of their privacy and expose their status as survivors in public when they wish to maintain their confidentiality."
Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson have both dedicated their legal careers to helping victims of sexual assault and other sex crimes, particularly in the state of Florida. In 2004, Dolce, himself a victim of childhood sexual abuse, was instrumental in compelling the Florida legislature to repeal all statutes of limitation for civil and criminal prosecution of child sexual battery. Richardson was Chief of the Special Victims Unit of the State Attorney’s Office for Palm Beach County, leading teams responsible for the prosecution of crimes against children and the elderly, and sexually motivated offenses.
A full copy of the letter is available here.
About Cohen Milstein
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa. and Raleigh, N.C. For additional information, visit www.cohenmilstein.com or call (561) 515-1400.