More Survivors Willing to Join Sexual Assault Class Action
Attorneys for the survivors' lawsuit presented to Public Safety Commission Monday
More women have come forward to add their names if a new complaint is filed in the ongoing sexual assault survivors' lawsuit against the city of Austin, Travis County, local law enforcement, and the District Attorney's Office, according to Jennifer Ecklund, one of three attorneys representing the survivors in the class action. Ecklund, with her co-counsel Elizabeth Myers and local survivor Hanna Senko (who is currently not a plaintiff in the suit), presented to the city's Public Safety Commission on Monday at the behest of its Vice Chair Rebecca Webber. Currently, eight named plaintiffs are awaiting U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel's ruling on the defendants' motions to dismiss, which was heard in December.
Since the case was originally filed in June 2018, Ecklund said, "between 75 and 100 women have called us" regarding the handling of their cases by police or the D.A.'s Office. The attorneys also addressed D.A. Margaret Moore's insistence at February's PSC meeting that the data surrounding sexual assault in Austin is "highly unreliable for many different reasons" (as Moore also told the Chronicle in January). Ecklund told commissioners that the data cited in the lawsuit came directly from the D.A.'s Office and the Austin Police Department, via a grant from *Office of Violence Against Women and the U.S. Department of Justice, which funded the Community Needs Assessment conducted by the Austin/Travis County Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team in April 2018. The suit also uses data pulled from another grant that funded the D.A.'s Intimate Partner Sexual Assault Prosecution Unit – which was secured before Moore's election – as well as FBI and court reports. Admitting that the data isn't "flattering" – or an "apples-to-apples" comparison – Ecklund insisted that doesn't mean it's not accurate. "The fact of the matter is sexual assault cases are not being filed and are not being prosecuted. ... Virtually no rapists are going to jail." This, she concluded, "is a public safety crisis."
The attorneys, noting that the lawsuit is the only official way rape survivors can ask the system to "please do better," shared with the PSC a list of suggested solutions, including more transparency, an audit of the D.A.'s Office, training for prosecutors on how to prove lack of consent to juries, specialized courts for sexual assault, obtaining survivor feedback, and "maybe most obviously, we've got to try cases," said Ecklund.
Editor's note: This article has been amended since publication to reflect grant funding came from the Office of Violence Against Women, not End Violence Against Women International.