Crime victims often face terrible financial burdens, like medical and mental health care bills, and also experience trauma, pain, suffering and lost quality of life. The criminal system isn’t designed to compensate them - but the civil justice system is. The criminal justice system also doesn’t hold perpetrators directly accountable to victims – but civil cases do. And sometimes, the criminal justice system just fails. So it is not uncommon for crime victims to file civil cases against perpetrators or responsible third parties.
But as valuable as the civil justice system can be, sometimes victims face the same kinds of challenges as they do in criminal cases. I’m thinking, in particular, of sexual assault cases. By filing a civil case, these survivors have to relive the horror and humiliation of their assault(s), so plaintiffs in these civil cases are extraordinarily brave.
This week, there are three very high profile celebrity cases making the news and I’ll begin with the one that led to this Huffington Post headline: “Confused Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault? Ask Kesha.” To summarize:
In 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), whose production company is part of Sony. According to Billboard, the lawsuit detailed Kesha's claims that Dr. Luke had abused her for years, forcing her to snort drugs, giving her "sober pills" and raping her. Since then, she has been in a protracted legal battle with the producer, trying to extricate herself from her contract with him.
But on “Friday afternoon, a judge ruled against Kesha's request to be released from her contract with Sony. That contract commits the 28-year-old pop star to making six more albums with the company, and thus links her to a producer she says sexually assaulted her.”
Now this ruling comes at the most preliminary stage of her lawsuit, requiring an extremely high burden of proof. She may eventually win. The case now moves to trial. But the (mostly) female celebrity world went nuts over this ruling, leading to its own twitter hashtag #freekesha. As the Huffington Post article put it, "even [her] privileges don't set her apart from other victims of sexual abuse who face a justice system that often doesn't protect them. Her story sheds light on why rape remains one of the most grossly underreported crimes.” (Dr. Luke, it should be noted, denies the allegations.)
Equally courageous is Erin Andrews of Fox Sports. When she was at ESPN, a stalker named Michael David Barrett rigged her Nashville Mariott hotel room with a peephole camera, created a video of her undressing, and then posted it on the internet. (In 2009, he pled guilty to felony stalking, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and apparently now lives in Oregon.)
Rather than running and hiding from this horror and humiliation, four years ago she filed a civil suit in Nashville, which is about to being. She is “seeking $75 million in damages from the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, alleging that the hotel was negligent” in allowing this man, who specifically asked for a room next to hers, to reserve this room, allowing him to set up this recording device. “The lawsuit also alleges infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy on the part of the hotel, Barrett and Windsor Capital Group, the hotel’s parent company.”
And then, of course, are the many sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. This article sums of the latest developments, but we thought it interesting that,
The Cosby accusers whose lawsuit led Camille Cosby to give a deposition Monday have tried again to obtain the legal case file from a Pennsylvania accuser’s 2005 civil lawsuit.
They argue that Bill Cosby should not be allowed to keep “a secret veil” over Andrea Constand’s lawsuit even though the civil case ended with a confidential settlement.…
Their lawsuit says they were defamed when Cosby’s agents denied the actor had molested them.
Constand’s complaint is the only one to lead to criminal charges. Cosby is due for a preliminary hearing in the case on March 8.
If the criminal justice system fails one way or the other, the civil justice system will step in, that’s for sure.