Monday, 20 May 2024

Bill to prevent weaponized defamation lawsuits against survivors of abuse passes Assembly Judiciary Committee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) and Chris Ward (D-San Diego) announced Tuesday that their Assembly Bill 933 passed the Assembly Committee on Judiciary with an 8-0 vote.

The bill will protect survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination from weaponized defamation lawsuits.

Specifically, AB 933 will strengthen the legal protection of survivors who may face retaliatory defamation lawsuits from speaking publicly about their personal experiences.

“Survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination are our family, our neighbors, our friends, and our colleagues” said Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), vice chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus. “We have to empower anyone who would expose those who've done them harm, because their courageous act will protect others.”

“Far too often, perpetrators of sexual misconduct, abuse, assault and harassment use the court system to punish survivors for speaking out about their abuse. This further victimizes those who bravely choose to come forward,” said Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego). “This bill will protect them from being silenced and lift up the voices of survivors, so they can freely share their experiences without fear of retaliation.”

The #MeToo movement gave many assault and harassment survivors the opportunity to bravely join countless others in sharing their stories on a national platform, in solidarity.

At the same time, it unveiled a toxic and predatory culture that persists across all sectors of employment and society. While survivors courageously came forward, many were served with defamation lawsuits by those who abused them.

In fact, defamation lawsuits have become the weapon of choice by perpetrators to intimidate, punish, and silence their accusers. Existing law makes certain publications and speech - including complaints of sexual harassment – privileged and protected from civil defamation actions.

However, these protections are limited. AB 933 expands protections for speech made by a survivor, without malice, about their own experience of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination.

This bill would make it harder for perpetrators to retaliate against survivors with legal threats and intimidation, but does not apply to unfounded claims.

This bill also helps take the burden off of survivors by providing reasonable attorneys’ fees and damages if they successfully defend themselves against meritless defamation lawsuits.

AB 933 now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Aguiar-Curry represents the Fourth Assembly District, which includes all of Lake, Colusa, Napa and Yolo counties, and part of Sonoma County.

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