When Can Sexual Assault Survivors Sue for Defamation?

Being a victim of sexual assault is bad enough, but finally finding the courage to speak up and then being called a liar — or worse — by the person who assaulted you, is even worse. There may, however, be a recourse for these types of circumstances. Women who have survived a sexual assault have been turning to defamation lawsuits to fight back against their attackers.

In many instances, this is not only to clear their own name but also because the statute of limitations for filing a civil claim of sexual assault has passed. And while not every attacker who has called his or her victim a liar will win a defamation lawsuit, it’s a viable option for sexual assault survivors who think they can prove the elements of defamation.

The Elements of a Defamation Lawsuit

Defamation laws will vary from state to state, but there are some general standards that make these laws similar to each other. In general, a person must prove the following in order to prevail in a defamation lawsuit:

  1. The defendant made a statement
  2. The statement was published
  3. The statement caused injury
  4. The statement was false, and
  5. The statement didn’t fall into a privileged category

Some explanation is necessary to better understand the elements listed above. The statement can be oral (slander) or written (libel), and a statement is “published” if a third party has heard, seen, or read the statement. Harm to reputation is enough to satisfy the injury element. Finally, while the other elements may be met, if the statement was privileged, a defamation lawsuit will fail. An example of a privileged statement is one given as a witness at a trial.

As you can see, a sexual assault survivor isn’t always going to be able to sue his or her attacker for defamation, but if may be possible if the attacker speaks badly enough about the victim. To understand if you have a legal claim, contact a personal injury lawyer for help.

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