Deciding on a course of action in the wake of a traumatic event like sexual assault is typically uncharted territory for victims, and can leave them feeling overwhelmed. In cases where non-disclosure agreements are involved, the path forward can seem even more daunting, adding confusion and fear to an already crushing emotional struggle. For survivors and parents of survivors, the question looms: Can an NDA truly silence the pursuit of justice?
Reporting criminal activity after signing an NDA
In the aftermath of a sexual assault, the weight of a signed non-disclosure agreement can feel like a binding silence, leaving victims and their families questioning their rights and possible avenues to justice. Yet it’s crucial to dispel a common misconception: an NDA, despite its legal significance, does not override a victim’s right to report unlawful activity.
Sexual assault is a crime, and there is no legal agreement that can compel a victim to quietly endure criminal acts. The fundamental principle is that no private contract can supersede the government’s authority to enforce the law. Courts recognize that the pursuit of justice and the protection of society from criminal behavior far outweigh any private contract. This legal safeguard ensures that alleged perpetrators are held accountable, and victims are able to seek justice, regardless of any prior agreements.
What non-disclosure agreements do not cover
A non-disclosure agreement usually includes a promise not to file a lawsuit. This exempts the victim from the right to pursue and obtain civil compensation in a particular matter. It also prevents the individual from going public and to the media to speak about the matter or to discuss it with future employers or coworkers. However, an NDA does not prevent criminal behavior from going unreported. Most of the time an NDA will not be violated if the employee who has signed the agreement then becomes the victim of a sexual assault and reports it. In fact, a judge may void the NDA completely once the crime is reported. One problem is that employees who sign NDAs may not understand their rights to report when criminal actions such as sexual assault are involved.
Sexual assault vs. sexual harassment
While sexual assault is recognized as a serious criminal offense in all jurisdictions, sexual harassment may or may not rise to the criminal level. However, in cases where sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, in a public or religious establishment, or at a school or university, victims are still within their rights to report the incident internally to supervisors or relevant authorities, even if they have signed an NDA.
In the past, NDAs were sometimes used against employees to stop them from making reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. But in 2022, congress passed the Speak Out Act, which restricts how NDAs can be enforced. Specifically, this piece of legislation makes it illegal to impose terms in an NDA that would inhibit a victim of sexual assault or harassment from reporting or openly speaking out about their allegations.
In general, there are no situations where an individual can be legally barred from reporting lewd or violent behavior, whether sexual harassment or sexual assault. Both are grave violations of an individual’s autonomy and rights and should be reported through the appropriate channels.
A note about CCP 1001 and CCP 1002
CCP § 1001 and CCP § 1002 refer to specific sections of the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP). These sections are related to the rules and procedures for filing and serving documents in civil cases in California courts. Here’s a brief overview of each section:
- CCP § 1001
- CCP § 1001 is a section of the CCP that prohibits the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in settlement agreements. The section was enacted on January 1, 2019.
- CCP § 1002
- CCP § 1002 prohibits settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of factual information related to a civil action. This includes actions that may be prosecuted as felony sex offenses, childhood sexual assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, workplace harassment or discrimination, and more.Top of Form
Together, these are known as the Silenced No More Act, signed into law by Gavin Newson in October 2021 and effective as of January 1, 2022.
Understanding the reporting process
Reporting a sexual assault is a courageous and empowering step toward seeking justice and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. The process of reporting typically follows a series of steps that help substantiate allegations and generate records of the incident:
- Exercising legal rights and options: You have rights as a survivor, including the right to have an attorney or support person present during reports or examinations. Additionally, law enforcement should inform you about protective measures, such as restraining orders, if applicable.
- Contacting law enforcement: For victims of sexual assault, reaching out to local law enforcement is the next important step. This can be done through non-emergency police lines or by visiting the local police station.
- Making the report: During reporting, victims are typically asked to provide important details about the incident including the alleged perpetrator, time, date, and location where the alleged sexual assault occurred.
- Forensic examination (optional): Forensic examinations are medical examinations conducted for the purpose of evidence collection. Victims have a right to consent or decline this step, but it is an available option for survivors.
- Follow-up and case updates: Law enforcement should keep you informed about the progress of the case, including any investigative steps taken. It’s important to maintain open communication with the assigned detective or investigator.
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Additional guidance for sexual assault victims
If you’re considering reporting a sexual assault after signing an NDA, it’s highly advised to consult with a qualified sexual assault attorney who is well-versed in the relevant laws and jurisdiction. They can address your questions and concerns, provide tailored advice, and help you understand your rights and options. As you navigate this journey with the guidance of your attorney, there are some important tips and considerations to keep in mind:
- Safety first: Most importantly, prioritize safety for yourself and your loved ones. If you feel that you are in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to contact local law enforcement or a crisis hotline.
- Document everything: Keep records of any relevant communications, incident reports, or evidence related to the alleged assault. This can be immensely helpful to your case if you choose to pursue legal action down the road.
- Review the non-disclosure agreement: Carefully examine the specific terms of the non-disclosure agreement you’ve signed. Understanding its scope and limitations will be essential in making informed decisions about reporting.
- Explore legal protections: Familiarize yourself with the legal protections in your jurisdiction for reporting criminal conduct, including sexual assault. Many jurisdictions have specific safeguards in place to ensure individuals can come forward without fear of legal repercussions.
- Seek support and counseling: It can be difficult to ask for help, but there are a variety of resources available for victims who need them. Reach out to support networks, advocacy groups, or professional counselors who specialize in trauma. Prioritizing emotional well-being is at the heart of a smooth path to recovery.
In February 2023, the skilled legal team at Taylor & Ring proudly announced that the $102.5 million verdict for the sexual assault case, Jane Doe et al v. Union School District, was featured in Daily Journal’s Top Verdicts. This case, like many others, demonstrates our steadfast commitment to our clients and all victims of sexual assault.
The dedicated attorneys at Taylor & Ring are ready to help you pursue the compensation and justice you are entitled to. Reach out to us today for a risk-free, confidential consultation. We proudly serve Los Angeles and Southern California. Call our office or submit our contact form today.