Since Johnny Depp prevailed in his lawsuit against Amber Heard for defamation, many victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment fear being sued for defamation if they come forward with claims against their perpetrators.
What is defamation?
Defamation is a legal claim that an individual made a false statement with the intent of injuring one’s reputation. An abuser may attempt to use this legal strategy to attack the victim, to claim the victim is making false statements.
What role does defamation play in assault and harassment cases?
Those accused of sexual abuse may attempt to assert a counterclaim of defamation against the victim. In the past, this could mean additional expense and legal hurdles for the victim.
What has changed?
Although still possible, California lawmakers have taken steps to raise the bar to help better ensure victims have financial protection when facing these types of counterclaims. The bar is raised, so to speak, by adding requirements for an abuser to establish defamation.
On October 10, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed AB Bill No. 933, which expands current defamation law and requires those who make allegations of defamation related to a sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination case to establish malice or ill will to move their case forward.
If the case fails, the individual who made the defamation claim must pay the sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination victim’s attorney’s fees as well as costs related to building a defense to the claim. The court may also require additional treble damages for any harm caused by the allegations.
Those in favor of the new law are hopeful it will expand beyond California and that similar protections will pass in other states in the near future.
What are my options if I am a victim of sexual assault?
Those who are the victim of sexual assault in California can see this new law as a sign of support. In addition to support, it can also provide financial security if there is fear that the abuser may push back with a defamation claim. An attorney experienced in this area of law can review your case and provide additional guidance.