(CN) – Thanks to the #MeToo movement, women of all ages have come forward to share stories of sexual assault and harassment, from college freshmen to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But in many of these cases, if an alleged victim wants to seek legal recourse, they face a problem: The statutes of limitations have run out. Too much time has passed for them to file a lawsuit in civil court asserting claims like sexual assault with battery.
Some, however, have sought a measure of justice by filing defamation lawsuits against their alleged attackers.
In December, Leigh Corfman sued former judge Roy Moore after he said she was a liar during his campaign for U.S. Senate in Alabama. Corfman’s claim that Moore touched her over her underwear 40 years ago when she was 14 and he 32 was one of several similar stories that dominated the final weeks of that race.
Corfman’s lawsuit does not ask for damages. Instead, she only wants an apology and for Moore to pay her attorney fees.
Corfman is not the only example of alleged victims bringing defamation actions when the time has passed to file a civil sexual-assault case.
Over the last several years, high-profile defamation lawsuits have alleged that comedian Bill Cosby, President Donald Trump and former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly falsely claimed their accusers are liars.
However, lawyers who have brought these lawsuits say this strategy isn’t exactly new. Instead, they say the #MeToo movement has brought more attention to the practice of using defamation complaints against alleged abusers, but it’s a long, hard legal road. In many cases, it’s the alleged victims who are on the receiving end of a libel suit brought by the person they accused.
The current social climate has increased the focus on claims of sexual assault, attorney Lisa Bloom said in an interview, but defamation lawsuits are labor intensive and have to meet strict standards.
“Defamation has always been available, but I think people are looking at it a lot more closely since the #MeToo movement of the last several months,” said Bloom, who is representing Janice Dickinson in her defamation case against Cosby.
Dickinson sued Cosby in 2015 because he called her a liar through his lawyer after she came forward with a story about a pill, a glass of wine and an alleged rape in Lake Tahoe in 1982.
It’s been three active years of litigation, Bloom said. The case has been appealed to the California Supreme Court, but discovery has not been made yet. And Bloom is working on a pro-bono basis.
Bloom said a defamation lawsuit can be a legal tool for when an accused perpetrator of sexual assault goes beyond a denial and makes a false statement.
“So let’s say a woman accuses a high-profile man of sexual assault. He denies it,” Bloom said. “I don’t think that alone would be sufficient for a defamation case. But in my Janice Dickinson case, the attorney went much further. He called her a liar. He said her statements were false, defamatory, lies. He called her a liar about five different ways.”