Student Sexual Assault Survivors Fight for Anonymity

victim anonymity

As more universities are facing federal Title IX lawsuits, more are asking the court to prohibit the use of pseudonyms. Survivors, however, are fighting to maintain their privacy.

Three former students from Dartmouth College and Florida A&M University (FAMU) sued their schools for monetary damages and better accountability of how the campuses address sexual misconduct and assault.

In court documents, these women are known as, “Jane Doe 2,” “Jane Doe 3,” and “S.B.,” according to CS Monitor. All three said they have suffered sexual violence and that their colleges knew enough to protect them but failed to do so.

Both schools deny allegations of inadequate response to sexual assault claims and are asking the court to reveal the names of the victims in its documents.

The schools claim their defense cases are hindered when pseudonyms are used, which raised the question — can people seek both justice and privacy under Title IX?

This push has sparked debate on how to balance fairness and compassion in the legal system and in educational settings worldwide.

“It certainly has been more common to let cases proceed on pseudonyms,” said Peter Lake, a professor at Stetson University College of Law. He added that the battle to prohibit the use of pseudonyms will continue.

“This has been a persistent question that’s been coming up in Title IX work – preserving some level of privacy or confidentiality … the fear being that if you don’t, it may chill people from going forward,” Lake said.

Over 500 people have signed a petition calling for Dartmouth to withdraw its request. Victims whose identities are released to the public may be subject to immense personal cost, and survivor advocates believe it should remain their choice.

“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,” wrote S.B.’s lawyers, Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson.

Judge Mark Walter in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida has denied several motions by Florida A&M University to reveal S.B.

“There is absolutely no legitimate public interest in outing a rape victim in a Title IX case,” he wrote in a 2018 decision.

FAMU recently brought their request to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for consideration.

Teri Mastando, an attorney in Alabama, said if the 11th Circuit aggress to hear the matter, it could have “huge implications for Title IX lawsuits.”

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