The Streisand Effect

‘The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet.’

In the past six years, there have been at least 100 lawsuits in the United States in which a person accused of abuse or sexual misconduct has sued their alleged victim for defamation, based on our review of news articles, legal databases, and records gathered from attorneys. Nearly half of the suits were filed since the MeToo hashtag went viral in October 2017. Prior to that, most cases involved college students or faculty protesting campus sexual misconduct investigations. Plaintiffs in the more recent cases include seven celebrities, five politicians, three CEOs, and one former White House aide. – Mother Jones

As perhaps the busiest MeToo defamation defense firm in the country, we see plenty of retaliatory defamation suits brought by the predator that are designed to sway public opinion, discredit and humiliate, and retraumatize victims. We have represented 15 people who survived abuse and were punished by their abuser weaponizing the court system against them in this way.

“Our clients are exposing predators, and then get sued,” Carrie explained in a February Mother Jones article. “It’s such a beautiful moment right now, where victims are finding their voice, and finding a community. It’s heartbreaking that they then are met with litigation and retaliation.”

“But on the other hand,” she adds, “it’s important for people to know the risks if they come forward.”

Though defamation suits are filed – they don’t often have the desired effect. Rather than repairing their reputation, the bogus defamation suit amplifies the assault. It’s what we call the Streisand Effect, named after entertainer Barbra Streisand who’s attempt to use the legal system to suppress aerial photographs of her house threw the spotlight on to their existence. It goes like this:

What abusers hope people will think: “he’s clearly innocent otherwise he wouldn’t have filed a defamation suit.”

What people actually think: “Wow he’s a weapons-grade dickwad who uses power and control in various contexts to try and get his way/cover his ass.”

Remember R Kelly’s cringey interview with Gayle King last year? It’s kinda the lawsuit equivalent of that. In many cases, the act of litigating draws far more attention to the rape allegations than whatever so-called defamatory statements the victim is alleged to have made.  Take Daylin Leach, a Pennsylvania politician, for example. He sued three women, including our former client, for defamation relating to their accusations.  The case, which was featured in local news got far more attention than the allegations themselves did. And as a result?  Earlier this month, he lost his reelection campaign.

It is a rude awakening for abusers when they realize that no, they cannot use the court system as their own personal PR concierge. Our very own Aurore DeCarlo, who is amazing at getting these bogus suits dismissed, has no problem reminding them that the defense to a lawsuit for defamation IS TRUTH.

The only problem is the lengthy litigation process that victims must endure to get to the point where truth prevails, and during that time, having to be in combat with perhaps the most traumatizing person in their life. On the other hand, defending these cases is a prime platform for victims to get their side of the story out since often the statute of limitations has expired for the victim to bring a lawsuit for the underlying assault.  We need a carve-out in our statutes of limitations so victims who are sued for defamation can counterclaim to hold their offender liable for the sexual assault itself even if the statute of limitations has expired.

While it is devastating to see victims being punished for finding their voice, we are starting to see the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice. Look at our client Lucia Evans, one of the original Weinstein silence breakers who was smeared by his lawyer in an attempt to destroy her credibility and thus undermine her accusations. Weinstein probably thought he got away with what he did to her.

But the bravery of Lucia, the humongous personal sacrifice she made to unmask a prolific rapist, was not in vain. She inspired other women to come forward, and eventually their collective voice got so loud that it was impossible for even a Power Perv like him to shut them up. Now, Weinstein is finally starting to pay for what he did.

Want to know what you can do to help other victims finally see justice? Support our call for the New York Adult Survivors Act. It’s kind of like the Child Victims Act (which just got extended -YAY!) in that it would provide a one year look back window for any survivor of sexual abuse aged 18+ to sue their abuser in civil court, even if the statute of limitations (the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated) has expired.

We know that many survivors need years, or even decades to process their abuse. Because of that, many survivors are already outside of the statute of limitations by the time they feel able to come forward. Increasing access to justice and accountability for victims of abuse of all ages will help create a world in which victims are met with compassion and support when they come forward, instead of accusations of defamation.

Learn more about the NY Adult Survivors Act here and on Safe Horizon’s website here.

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Our attorneys and staff have never been more devoted to helping clients. Please contact us or call 646.666.8908 to schedule a case evaluation.


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