The Accused Fight Back

In the past several years, public awareness about the problem of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses has grown (see previous blogs on this subject). The handling of sexual assault claims by schools across the country has been under scrutiny, with many schools changing their policies and procedures to deal more aggressively with those accused of any sexual misconduct. In their haste to protect victims of these awful crimes, some institutions may have denied due process to the accused or even been complicit in defamation.

The accused are now fighting back. In what may be just the beginning, three lawsuits have recently been filed by people who were never prosecuted and claim that their reputations have been damaged by unfair processes and policies.


Jean-Paul Nungesser, a senior at Columbia University and a German National, is suing the University. A fellow student, Emma Sulkowicz, accused Nungesser of sexual assault. The University investigation into the case found Nungesser not guilty and the police declined to press charges. That was not the end of the matter, however. Sulkowicz designed the “Carry that Weight” project for her senior thesis, which was approved by faculty member Jon Kessler. The project was known as the “mattress project” because Sulkowicz dragged a mattress into classrooms, the library, and on campus-provided transportation. The images of Sulkowicz and her mattress went viral, and soon Nungesser’s identity–and the accusations against him–were national news.

Nungesser is suing not only Columbia University but the Board of Trustees, the President of Columbia University, and Professor Kessler. Nungesser asserts that Columbia endorsed the mattress project by giving Sulkowicz the forum for it and college credit for it. He claims that his reputation and job prospects in the U.S. are suffering immensely due to Sulkowizc’s harassment campaign.


Francisco Paiva Sousa is an international student from Portugal who was studying at San Diego State University when he was accused of sexual assault. The charges were dropped once the police investigated, but a local camera crew caught Sousa leaving the police station, and his picture was all over the news. Sousa was suspended on the day of his arrest, which was December 9, 2014, and he has remained suspended pending the school’s investigation. Sousa has filed a lawsuit seeking to get access to the specific accusations that led to his suspension, and to change the way in which San Diego State University handles sexual assault allegations going forward.


One of the most striking examples of the damage that can be done by accusations of sexual assault is the now infamous rape story in Rolling Stone magazine. Published in the November 2014 issue, the story detailed a brutal assault on a victim called “Jackie” who was a student at the University of Virginia. The assault allegedly took place at one of the college’s fraternities. In response to the national outcry over the story, the president of the University suspended all Greek life activity until classes resumed after the new year, and promised a thorough police investigation into the allegations. The story soon began to unravel, however, and was eventually completely discredited by reporters and fact checkers at the Washington Post and the Columbia University School of Journalism. Rolling Stone issued a retraction of the story, and the journalist apologized, but the damage had been done.

On May 12, 2015, University of Virginia Associate Dean of Students filed a multimillion dollar defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine, its parent company Wenner Media, and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the journalist who wrote the story. The lawsuit alleges that the now-retracted story about a gang-rape at University of Virginia and her failure to respond appropriately to that incident destroyed her credibility, permanently damaged her reputation, and caused her emotional distress.


If you have been accused of crime and denied due process, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Pak and McRae, LLC.

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Pak & McRae Law

At Pak and McRae Law, LLC we provide straightforward, sincere criminal defense for local, state, and federal matters. Our team includes a former Assistant District Attorney, so we understand how prosecutors approach cases and will use those insights to benefit your case.

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