Sexual Assault, Domestic Abuse Victims Need Caring Counsel

By Abigail Miranda

Attorney Abigail Miranda

Last week, The New York Times published a story with the headline, “DeVos Says She Will Revisit Obama-Era Sexual Assault Policies,” explaining that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “intends to take a hard look at whether the Obama administration’s campus rape policies deprived accused students of their rights … .”

At issue is how the Trump Administration will enforce Title IX, which “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.” (U.S. Department of Education).

As The New York Times points out, the 1972 law also requires schools to protect students from rape and sexual assault.

It was chilling to read the comments in the Times’ story from Candice Jackson, who leads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, responsible for enforcement of Title IX.

The Times said:

In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Jackson said that “90 percent” of sexual assault accusations on campus “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

Whatever one’s politics or views of the Trump Administration, those words are very disturbing.

The only “life raft” for victims of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, family violence, sexual slavery and human trafficking is knowing that someone will believe them, that someone will care what happened, and that the system offers the hope of justice being done.

Victims need and deserve that type of equilibrium—when their world has otherwise been destroyed—in order to survive, recover, heal, and when necessary, seek legal redress.

Their sense of having a right to never experience sexual assault or any type of abuse must be affirmed—and all those who stand as advocates on the road to healing must make it their first priority to treat victims with understanding, empathy, and gentle sound counsel.

That’s a foundational philosophy for the Personal Injury Law team at Cramer & Anderson, and it’s also a set of principles whose importance has been heightened for me since
I was named to the Board of Directors of the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury in November 2016.

Ms. Jackson of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights later apologized for her comments, but the damage had been done. The effort by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to revisit Federal sexual assault laws—in a country in which 1 out of every 5 students experience rape or sexual assault while in college—makes the work of the Women’s Center even more important.

In a July 14 Facebook post, the Women’s Center said, “Betsy DeVos’ focus on false accusations is worrisome for the future of how Title IX works on college campuses. In actuality, numbers for false reporting are low and often comparable to false reporting numbers for other crimes. At the Women’s Center we always believe survivors. We stand with survivors of sexual assault, and Betsy DeVos should too.”

It is important to note, as the Women’s Center acknowledges in that Facebook post, false reporting does happen. We have handled such cases at Cramer & Anderson, but we can’t allow a low incidence of false sexual assault and rape allegations to confuse the realities of the situation. There are an overwhelming number of victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse who simply never obtain justice.

Since 1975, victims have been able to turn to the Women’s Center as an around-the-clock safe haven providing domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor services in western Connecticut, and offering crisis intervention, a shelter, counseling and so much more.

Among the education and training the Women’s Center provides to more than 23,000 adults and children each year is a focus on college campus safety, and training for fraternity/sorority organizations, athletes, and residential halls.

In its public advocacy, the Women’s Center has lobbied the Connecticut Legislature to strengthen the state’s domestic violence laws, specifically a bill that adds language to protect victims not just of physical abuse but also those who “suffer emotional distress” through the actions of an abuser. The bill was approved in June.

The big picture goal of the Women’s Center is to end the violence against women, men and children, and to foster equality and empowerment for all. The amazing staff, volunteers and board members are pushing hard to get there, while providing prevention, crisis intervention, and support services with regard to domestic violence, sexual assault, and other major life transitions.

I’m proud and inspired to do whatever I can to help with that mission.

Attorney Lisa Rivas

I’m equally proud to work for a firm where it’s built into the professional DNA of the Attorneys and Partners to treat victims in Personal Injury cases of all types with understanding, empathy, and the gentle, sound counsel they so greatly deserve—sound counsel that can turn tenacious in settlement negotiations or litigation.

Attorney Lisa Rivas of our Danbury office brings that type of compassion and caring to members of Connecticut’s immigrant communities through her broad experience with Immigration Law.

Attorney Jennifer Collins

Partner Jennifer Collins, who is also based in Danbury and has extensive experience preparing and trying injury claims to a jury, has inspired me with her prior background as a sexual assault and domestic violence counselor who has volunteered on the Women Center’s hotline. She underwent training at the Women’s Center and was certified by the State.

Attorney John Tower

Partner John Tower, one of my mentors at Cramer & Anderson, takes caring for clients to another level. In the case of an elderly woman whose family was left homeless after being scammed by a remodeling contractor, he went above-and-beyond to devise an innovative approach that is resulting in a community effort to build the family a new house for free.

Attorney Randy DiBella

Our Personal Injury Senior Partner, D. Randall DiBella, who is also a mentor, has an AV Preeminent® Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Rating™, which means fellow attorneys feel he represents the highest level of professional excellence. Attorney DiBella has also achieved successful outcomes in very sensitive, dramatic cases, including winning a $1 million settlement for estate of cyclist killed in accident and successfully representing the victim of a New Milford house explosion.

And those are only some members of our Personal Injury team.

I will work as hard as possible and do all I can to help the Women’s Center accomplish its mission to end sexual assault and family violence. In the meantime, it is comforting to know that when victims of any type of injury come to Cramer & Anderson, they will have a deeply caring, compassionate and highly experienced team in their corner.