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Survivor rights continue to expand as new legal protections become available.
By Jessica pride
Published on
May 3, 2024
Last Updated
May 3, 2024

AB 933: Championing Survivor Rights in California

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California MeToo Bill AB 933 Provides Survivor Defamation Protection 

A new law will protect sexual assault survivors from defamation countersuits so they can pursue justice without fear of retaliation.

In October of 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an important #MeToo bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 933. The bill provides stronger protections for survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination from retaliatory defamation lawsuits filed by those who harmed them. 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many survivors have been empowered to speak out about their experiences, file reports, and pursue lawsuits. In response, there has been a growing trend of sexual harassers and assaulters attempting to silence survivors by filing baseless defamation suits against them (or threatening to do so). 

AB 933, which went into effect in January 2024, strengthens current California defamation laws by better-shielding survivors from the “weaponized” use of defamation filings. This helps ensure other survivors in similar situations are not discouraged from reporting their own claims. The passage of the new law is a major win for the overall movement to expose and end incidents of sexual assault and harassment. 

If you or a loved one experienced sexual abuse or harassment, you should be able to file a lawsuit without fear of unfounded claims being brought against you. Contact the Pride Law Firm at (619) 516-8166 to set up a no-cost consultation where we can discuss your case in a completely private setting. 

What Is a Retaliatory Defamation Lawsuit?

In a retaliatory defamation lawsuit, the defendant in the underlying sexual assault case files a lawsuit against the survivor of sexual assault. Usually, the person who is accused of sexual assault will file or threaten to file a defamation suit against the survivor and claim that the assault allegations are untrue and have the effect of damaging their reputation. 

This is done in “retaliation” against the person, hence the term, “retaliatory defamation” or “survivor retaliation” lawsuits. 

Many times, these defamation claims are meritless and would likely not succeed in court. However, the effect that such claims have is that many survivors eventually back down on the initial sexual assault lawsuit. 

The survivor may feel the financial pressure of additional legal fees, and/or potential effects on their reputation and their job. Emotionally, the survivor may be reluctant to relive the trauma of their abuse in yet another court process. 

The “Chilling Effect” of Survivor Retaliation Lawsuits

Another negative effect of survivor retaliation lawsuits is that other survivors of sexual assault may learn about defamation claims being filed, and feel discouraged from filing a report or lawsuit for their own cases. This is known as the “chilling effect,” meaning that a person becomes hesitant or afraid to exercise their legal rights out of fear of negative repercussions. 

In the past, enough defamation lawsuits may have been filed to the point where many sexual assault survivors began to fear them. This is where AB 933 comes in: the new law clarifies that sexual assault claims made in good faith are a form of protected speech. This means that survivors can now move forward with their claims to pursue justice, knowing that their cases are protected from civil actions such as defamation lawsuits. 

AB 933 also provides relief for survivors in the form of reasonable attorney’s fees and compensation for successfully defending against meritless defamation lawsuits. If you win the lawsuit, you also can get treble damages and punitive damages.

As movements like #MeToo raise awareness of sexual assault survivors’ rights, new laws continue to evolve to provide survivors with additional protections. Pursuing legal action is one way to ensure that misconduct is brought to light and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. 

At the Pride Law Firm, we stay at the forefront of new developments in sexual assault and harassment laws. Compensation from a lawsuit can help cover losses connected with the pain, suffering, and trauma from an assault. Contact us at (619) 516-8166 to speak with a lawyer if you have questions about your rights. We are on hand to guide you with the utmost care and empathy for you and your loved ones. 

Reasons Survivors Often Don’t Come Forward — And How a Lawyer Can Help

Research reveals that due to the effects of sexual violence, many survivors feel reluctant to pursue a lawsuit to compensate them for the losses caused by the abuse. This is especially true for those subject to child sexual abuse or abuse in institutional settings like a church

Some survivors may wait for years to file a lawsuit, possibly resulting in them missing the statute of limitations (filing deadline) for their claims. Others might not ever file at all. 

A few of the reasons why survivors might not come forward to file a lawsuit include: 

  • Fear of Retaliation: Survivors might fear consequences such as losing their job or being penalized at work for filing a complaint. As discussed above, the fear of a defamation lawsuit is now a common concern that laws like AB 933 are fighting to address. A sexual assault attorney can explain how AB 933 serves to protect the rights of survivors.
  • Intense Emotional Distress: Survivors may be experiencing emotional and psychological trauma which makes it difficult for them to discuss or disclose what happened to them. In this regard, a lawyer who has experience in litigating such cases will understand the emotional needs of their client. 
  • Distrust of Authorities: Dealing with the legal system can be intimidating, and survivors might be unsure of how to interact with law enforcement, judges, and other persons. A lawyer can relieve these stresses by communicating with other parties on behalf of the client.
  • Feelings of Confusion: Sexual assault and harassment can raise many questions for survivors, both about what happened to them and how they can proceed moving forward. Navigating the legal system can be daunting, but a lawyer will be able to answer any questions and concerns that arise along the way.

What many survivors might not understand is that sexual assault lawyers provide services that are above and beyond basic filing services. A qualified sexual assault attorney must understand the complex emotions, societal pressures, and individual circumstances surrounding each survivor’s case. They must assertively pursue legal remedies while at the same time exercising the care and sensitivity that their clients need. 

More About AB 933

AB 933 is sponsored by the nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates and the California Employment Lawyers Association. 

Mariko Yoshihara, Policy Director for the California Employment Lawyers Association says, “We applaud the Governor for signing this important piece of legislation that will stop abusers from weaponizing our justice system against those who speak out.” 

AB 933 is also part of the Stronger California 2023 Legislative Agenda, which is an annual policy agenda involving the contributions of over 60 California nonprofit and advocacy organizations to advance economic justice for women and their families.

Contact a Lawyer if You Have Questions About Assembly Bill 933

AB 933 expands protections against defamation lawsuits and makes it harder for perpetrators to retaliate against survivors using intimidation and legal threats. Sexual assault incidents are already burdensome and difficult experiences, and this new law can help to alleviate the stresses associated with such circumstances. 

If you or a loved one were subjected to sexual assault, abuse, or harassment, you may be entitled to pursue legal action for compensation. 

At the Pride Law Firm, we understand that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to come forward and hold abusers accountable for their actions. A lawsuit can help expose wrongdoings and prevent such abuses from happening in the future. Contact us at (619) 516-8166 to speak with a lawyer confidentially about your case.

Proudly Representing California Residents

Related Resources

If you found this sexual assault litigation content helpful, please view the related topics below:

Contact us if you have specific questions on the matter or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation. 

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