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Should false rape accusers be sued?

By Roxanne Jones | 12/17/2013, 10:48 a.m.

The Long Beach Unified School District sued his accuser, and she has been ordered to repay the $750,000 she was awarded in a lawsuit against the district.

It seems more men who insist they have been falsely accused of rape are trying a new tactic: suing their accusers in civil court, mostly for defamation. They are seeking to repair their ruined lives, save their careers and clear their names. Make no mistake, I could never defend men who rape and believe even harsher penalties are needed for rapists. But I can understand why some men are opting to fight back. And I even agree with this strategy in some cases.

TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is fighting back. Arrington is suing his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Allen, after she accused him in 2012 on Facebook and Twitter posts of physically abusing her and raping one of her friends (who later denied this). The case is pending.

Recently, it sounded as if Heisman Trophy winner and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping a fellow student, and his legal team were also considering this strategy. His attorney, Tim Jansen, said that they have not ruled out a civil suit of their own.

"His reputation is important to him," Jansen said after his client was cleared when the state attorney said no charges would be filed. "His career is important to him."

The accuser's attorney has requested a review of the case by the Florida attorney general's office and argues that the Tallahassee Police Department tried to stymie the rape investigation of the star athlete.

Throughout the investigation, Winston insisted that the sex was consensual. And his unidentified accuser equally insisted she was raped but was heavily intoxicated and had a "broken memory" of events. However, toxicology reports found no drugs in her system and very low alcohol levels. Complicating the case further, Winston's DNA was found on the woman's underwear and a second DNA sample, reportedly from her boyfriend, was found on her shorts.

No simple solution to clearing your name

Admittedly, my initial reaction to hearing no charges would be filed was relief. For me, the case was troubling on both sides. And though I'm no lawyer, I thought: "Winston should sue his accuser. If he's really innocent, he should prove it and clear his name."

But it may not be that simple. Xavier Donaldson, a defense attorney and former assistant district attorney in New York, warns that while initiating these lawsuits against accusers may seem like a good way for men who are wrongly accused to get justice, he'd be hard-pressed to advise any of his clients to pursue this strategy.

"It's a very sensitive issue, and these suits should be extremely case specific, extremely rare. ... You can't win these cases, too much backlash," Donaldson said.

His advice to Winston: "Move on with your life, remain above the scandal, and focus on school and following your dream to play in the NFL."

I asked Donaldson what about the thousands of men who are wrongly accused -- just ignore them?

"Look, I tell my clients innocent before proven guilty is not reality. It's more of a marketing slogan to promote faith in our justice system; without that premise, the system would fall apart," he said. He also said it could "discourage too many from reporting real rapes."

It sounds to me like ancient history repeating itself. It sounds to me like we have a very long way to go before there's justice for all.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

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