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August 4, 2010

Women’s Advocates Applaud Appeals Court Ruling Vindicating Rape Survivor

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In a precedent-setting decision, Judge Kent A. Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denounced myths about rape while reinstating the civil rights lawsuit of a Butler County sexual assault victim.  Reedy v. Evanson is a case against the Cranberry Township safety director and police officers who wrongfully arrested and charged Sara Reedy with theft, stolen property, and making false reports to law enforcement authorities after she reported the sexual assault and theft of money from her place of employment.  She sat in jail for five days and awaited a criminal trial for eight months until a serial rapist confessed to sexually assaulting her and other victims. 

The District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissed Ms. Reedy’s civil lawsuit after finding the Township police officers had probable cause to arrest her.  In rejecting the rape myths on which the police and the District Court relied, the Third Circuit adopted arguments submitted by the Women’s Law Project in its amicus brief in support of plaintiff Reedy on behalf of 39 non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the criminal justice system’s response to violence against women.

Amal Bass, staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project, describing the arguments in the brief, said, “the police officers’ botched investigation and the District Court’s conclusions throwing out Ms. Reedy’s civil rights case were based on long-discredited myths about sexual assault that distort the criminal justice system’s response to sex crimes against women and girls and undermine decades of legal reform in Pennsylvania.”  The Third Circuit agreed, noting that “no reasonably competent officer could have concluded at the time of Reedy’s arrest that there was probable cause for the arrest.”  It further stated that it was wrong for the police department and the District Court to find that Ms. Reedy’s decisions not to activate an alarm while a gun was pointed at her head and not to pursue counseling after the assault were inculpatory, and that sexual assault victims have “no duty” to pursue counseling or to physically resist their assailants.

Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project added, “Not only was the police conduct toward the victim egregious, but the public safety was jeopardized because aggressive pursuit of a serial rapist was delayed.”

The Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case for trial on the merits of Ms. Reedy’s Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution claims, and for consideration of whether Detective Evanson is entitled to qualified immunity from Ms. Reedy’s Fourth Amendment unlawful search claim. 

Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney in the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office said “The Third Circuit’s opinion is a step towards ridding the criminal justice system of harmful gender-biased myths that prevent victims of sexual assault from obtaining civil and criminal justice.”

Plaintiff Sara Reedy is represented by David V. Weicht of Leech, Tishman, Fuscaldo
& Lampl in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

About the Women’s Law Project:
The Women's Law Project, with offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pa., creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.


See Sara Reedy's story on ABC News, also see "There is a chronic failure to report and investigate rape cases in the United States..." WLP's Executive Director's testimony before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.