Defendant in sexual assault sues accuser for defamation
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As Yee Xiong prepared to leave the sentencing hearing for a man she said sexually assaulted her at an off-campus apartment when they were students, she felt ready to finally put the case behind her after four years. Then, she was handed a $4 million defamation lawsuit.
The lawsuit from Lang Her, who pleaded no contest to felony assault, stated that Xiong and three of her siblings colluded to alienate him from the close-knit ethnic Hmong community and called him a rapist on Facebook.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Xiong said it was like a “slap to the face,” as a way for Her to “continue to harass my family and me.”
While such lawsuits have long been a legal strategy, experts say, some of the accused may feel they must seek to clear their names in court at a time when there is increased focus on campus sex assaults and more serious consequences at schools.
“Being labeled ‘rapist' now has more power than it did 10 years ago,” Emily Austin of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault said. “The impact could be, if these become more common, that survivors are going to double-think reporting, afraid anything they're saying could be grounds for a lawsuit against them personally.”
Eric Rosenberg, an Ohio attorney who has represented clients suing their accusers and universities, said many of the accused suffer damaged reputations and lost educational and career prospects.
“There is no bigger stain on a person in this culture than being labeled as a sexual assailant, and that's what they're labeled as,” said Rosenberg, who has filed or acted as a consultant for more than half a dozen such lawsuits in five years.
He said the number of such lawsuits has increased in recent years as the consequences for those accused at schools have intensified. “They can't get into school; they can't get in to the military; a lawsuit's their only way out,” he said.
Tracking such cases can be difficult, as defamation lawsuits are often filed in state courts and many are settled.
Regardless of the venue, Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a nonprofit victim rights group, discourages potential clients from naming perpetrators outside formal channels.