If you’ve turned on the news lately or flipped through a newspaper you’ve likely seen a story about sexual assault. Over the past few weeks, dozens of men and women have come forward to accuse notable figures (including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Bill O’Reilly) of sexual assault.
It appears as though sexual assault was an open secret in Hollywood. Many knew that sexual assault was a problem but never spoke up. In fact, many of these Hollywood elites have paid their victims to remain silent.
Secret Civil Personal Injury Settlements
In California, sexual assault lawsuits can be settled in secret. These settlements are often tied to strict non-disclosure agreements. This means that a victim of sexual assault can recover money from their abuser, but can never hold them accountable in public. Many fear that if these personal injury settlements are not made public these men will continue to sexually assault others.
Banning Secret Settlements in Civil Sexual Assault Cases
California’s legislature recently took steps to remove the veil of secrecy around sexual assault lawsuit settlements. Almost 150 women who work at the State Capitol signed a letter speaking out against the epidemic of sexual assault. In response to this letter and the sheer number of sexual assault allegations that have come to light in the state recently, a bill that would make these settlements public was announced
Specifically, Senator Connie M. Leyva, of Chino, announced that she intends to introduce legislation that would prohibit parties from keeping settlements secret in civil sexual assault cases. Leyva explained that keeping civil sexual assault settlements a secret “can jeopardize the public” and put “other potential victims” at risk. Perpetrators of sexual assault should not be allowed to escape the social consequences of their actions just because they are wealthy or well-connected.
Dangers of Keeping Sexual Assault Settlements Secret
There are at least two major problems with keeping civil sexual assault settlements secret. First, as mentioned by Senator Leyva, secrecy puts other victims at an increased risk of harm. If potential victims are not aware of a person’s prior indiscretions, they cannot adequately protect themselves from harm. If a man routinely assaults women and settles with them in secret, other women may not know that he is a danger. How can you keep yourself from becoming a victim of a serial sexual assaulter if you do not have all of the relevant information?
Second, secrecy creates an atmosphere of shame and silence. Victims of sexual assault may not know that there are others who have suffered similar harms. This isolates victims and does not allow them to engage with and learn from others who can relate. Victims who hold onto their injuries, for fear of speaking out, are more likely to suffer serious emotional and mental harms.
Social Backlash is a Necessary Consequence of Sexual Assault
No one should be able to buy a good reputation. This is exactly what happens when perpetrators of sexual assault settle their indiscretions in secret. Victims who file a personal injury lawsuit against their abusers generally want two things. One of those is money to compensate for their injuries. The second, and perhaps even more important, is holding their abuser accountable for their actions. This includes exposing the sexually-exploitive behavior that is the basis for the lawsuit.
Why would victims choose to settle in secret if their goal is to try their abuser in the court of public opinion? Because many of these victims have suffered serious physical, mental, and emotional injuries that are expensive. These men and women may not be able to handle the financial burden the sexual assault has imposed. A settlement may be necessary to get by, especially when there is limited evidence to support a claim. This does not mean that they do not wish their abuser’s conduct was made public for all to see.
Social backlash for sexually assaulting women is important and necessary. If Senator Leyva’s proposed legislation becomes law, victims of sexual assault will be one step closer to being able to hold their abusers accountable in the public eye. For now, victims will have to weigh the benefits and costs of pushing for a public trial at the possible expense of recovering compensation.
If you have been the victim of sexual assault in Los Angeles do not hesitate to contact the Citywide Law Group today. We can help you recover the compensation you both need and deserve for your injuries. During your free consultation, we will review your case, determine the best strategy for your case, and answer the questions you have.