Legal advice regarding publishing documentation of sexual assult
April 6, 2013 7:24 AM   Subscribe

The assault occurred in Panama, while I was working for a US-based nonprofit biology field school. I'm Canadian, and never had a contract with this institution. I was assaulted by an American coworker who targets the young women he comes into contact with via this job (and other lines of work, all as a teacher). I have a recording of him admitting what he did, and two recordings of the head of the organization explaining that he wont do anything and that he knows but doesnt care that this person is a predator. The recordings were made without permission. I've been told that the federal funding this organization receives would disappear if I could somehow find that granting agency and contact them with my complaint. What I'd really like to know is whether I could publish my recordings without legal repercussion, or what the outcome might be if I did, regardless.

So does anyone know whether it's legal to publish this stuff? What about going to the feds who give this place grants, does anyone know what that process looks like? if I were sued or issued a c & d what would my options be?
posted by qreus to Law & Government (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lawyer lawyer lawyer.
posted by Think_Long at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

You really need to talk to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about this. This is high-stakes and all the details matter. You do not want to take the word of strangers on the internet for this; the wrong move could let this guy off and have terrible consequences for you and the field station.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

You really really need a lawyer for every singe aspect of all of this.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2013

Thing is, even if it's technically legal for you to release the recordings, that doesn't mean you can't be sued. People can be sued for all kinds of reasons, even bad reasons, even reasons that will get thrown out of court eventually. In the meantime, you, the person getting sued, still has to defend yourself in court.

Get a lawyer now.
posted by rtha at 7:35 AM on April 6, 2013

One of the first things your lawyer will ask is what you want to have happen. Do you have a specific goal here? I mean beyond publishing this. What do you want to happen as a result of publishing this?

I mention this because you will probably be asked, and you might want to think on it ahead of time, rather than be put on the spot.
posted by ryanrs at 7:51 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first two words of your question are "Legal advice." That alone should immediately tell you this isn't the right venue for your question; you need someone qualified to give you legal advice, eg, a lawyer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:17 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Absolutely, you need to consult with a lawyer to discuss all of the legal ramifications. Before you do that, you need to understand what you seek to accomplish. Specifically, what legal remedy do you want? This is the most important consideration. If you want the field school to lose its federal funding, you are going to have a serious effect on everyone there, both the employees and the community it serves. Even if we take your question at face value, I cannot imagine that everyone was in on it.

I can tell you that if you plan to do any of your publishing online, you are begging for liability. Non-legally, you will be known as a person who secretly records others. That will have a bearing on your future employability. Very few employers want to hire a whistle-blower who might have a hidden microphone. Not all the potential costs to you are legal.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:18 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not do anything without talking to a lawyer.

If what you really want is to have the head of the organization and the assaulter removed from this position, then you should consider starting by addressing your complaint to the organization's board rather than their funding agency. If they are fired it would probably make it harder to find further positions in the future, rather than losing their funding, which is easily explainable in these days of tight federal budgets.
posted by grouse at 8:33 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write down everything. Everything. Dates, potential witnesses... everything.

Also get a lawyer.
posted by HMSSM at 8:43 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @grouse: I did try to go through the board of directors. I went to a member I was told by an ex-employee was trustworthy on a board she deemed corrupt. He was not pleased to be drawn into the issue.

@Tanizaki: The assumption that a community is served by this place--or that interests other than the self-interests of those running it--is thoughtful, but I've considered that. The local community is against this station due to theft of archaeological artefacts by the head of the school in the past, and no one in Panama seems to have tied their finances closely to the station (as it has a long history of law-breaking and racist hostility to locals). I am somewhat amused by the suggestion that I would value my career or prospects of working with people who would have reason to avoid whistleblowers over potentially keeping people safe from a sexual predator. "Even if we take your question at face value"--you seemed to be so struck by all the possible ways in which I might be ruining everything for everyone. Remember the young women who are around this man. Feel free to take it at face value when I saw that everyone who works with him also drinks with him, and turned against me even as they said "he has problems. yes, he touches students." Or, feel free to feel attacked on their behalf.

To all the responses asking what I hope to accomplish. Wow! I really thought it was obvious that I hope to warn students about the possibility that they might be unsafe at this school. If I were sued for liable, I could counter-sue--but what would be admissible? There were witnesses, students who were also touched for gratification by this man, who I wouldn't want to drag into it, which is why I produced my own evidence. But that evidence might be useful only in a court of public opinion, which I find fair (exposure cleanses, but many--including those responding--disagree).
This place is already known for being corrupt/is already widely black-listed. American universities wont post its posters. More info could be available and it could continue to operate on the basis of people having a fuller picture. That would resolve the "please think of the other employees" (to reiterate, no staff at this place--literally no one except the people most directly involved--have their livelihoods on the line) issue that arises if I were to pursue legal action.

What I want is a resolution that will have the effect of making information about the school and the sexual predator himself available so that people might best weigh their options when dealing with either. Everyone says lawyer up, but that's assuming I have even a consultation fee. I've tried to find legitimate free consultation in my area and have failed.
posted by qreus at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The way I'd frame this question is "how can I get a free consult with an attorney who will be able to give me an overview of my potential liability for defamation and/or illegal recording if I go ahead and publicly announce the truth about what happened here."

I don't know the answer, but if you frame it that way -- how can you get a free consultation on international free speech/defamation and concealed recording issues, including applications of Canadian and Panamanian law, in the context of an accusation of workplace assault -- you might be able to search more effectively for the answer. It sounds like you might be a student -- in that case your ombudsperson might be the first stop, if just to brainstorm on legal resources available to you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:19 AM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry that this happened to you. And you are very brave to not back down.

I think that when the others are telling you to know what you want to accomplish, they are concerned for you (and not in a concern troll way). Do you want this person to go to jail, to lose his job? Do you want to shut the program and/or seek monetary damages? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you and your attorney plan how to deal with everything legally and emotionally.

And please seek medical attention and counseling if you haven't already done so.
1-800-656-4773. Is the national Rape Crisis number in the US. The can put you in touch with doctors and counselors.

I couldn't find a crisis line for Panama, but here is the US Embassy phone - 011-507-317-5000

Please take care of yourself and I hope you get the redress you seek.
posted by 1066 at 9:22 AM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry that you are having difficulty finding affordable legal consultation in your area. Perhaps that would be a better question to pose on AskMe: "I live in ______. Here is my situation. I would like to speak to an attorney, but I don't have much money. Can anyone help point me toward affordable/free legal assistance?"

As your question stands, you have explicitly asked for legal advice. Several people have told you this is not an appropriate venue for that, and they're right. Personally, I think this question should be deleted. What you're asking for is probably not legal to give you. And speaking as an attorney, if I did see another attorney answering your question here with specific legal advice as you've requested, I would be inclined to report that attorney to his/her local disciplinary authority. There are several really good reasons why we're not allowed to give legal advice to strangers on the Internet. It can result in genuine harm, although that may be difficult to understand.

As others have noted, thinking about what you hope to accomplish and assembling your facts and documentation are two things that every prospective client can do before meeting with a lawyer to save time and money. Your initial meeting will be much more productive if you have clear ideas about these things beforehand, even if those ideas change during your meeting or afterward. And more generally, doing those things will help you clarify your thinking about the situation.

You say that you'd like to accomplish "a resolution that will have the effect of making information about the school and the sexual predator himself available so that people might best weigh their options when dealing with either." Fair enough, but that is a general and somewhat abstract description that could apply to any number of scenarios. If you were my client (obviously you are not), I would suggest some different ideas that all fit that description. If you can clarify and specify your goal further, then you may have better luck achieving it.

You said that you are Canadian, but not whether you reside in Canada. I'll suggest that when you are looking for an attorney to help you with this situation, you might mention any potential geographic and/or jurisdictional issues early in the conversation. I have no experience with Panama in any respect, but I have worked on litigation between parties in Canada and the United States. I've seen mistakes made that could have created problems for clients (but did not, in those cases) because the attorneys were unaware of certain requirements. You might ask a prospective attorney whether he/she has relevant experience or would feel comfortable working in that context.

It is possible that you won't be able to find "free" consultation in your area. But if you were in my local jurisdiction (which I presume you are not), I could suggest several places that would be worth looking—a particular legal clinic, a local bar association that hosts free-consultation nights at courthouses, etc. Perhaps your area has similar opportunities. Try asking lawyers, law schools, law librarians, and bar associations in your area about this type of opportunity.

If this thread does not go precisely how you had envisioned, I hope the answers are nevertheless helpful to you. I am sorry for what happened to you, and good luck finding what you need.
posted by cribcage at 9:27 AM on April 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not sure how this will work given the geography of your particular situation, but I know that in my city (Boston) the local rape crisis center has legal advocates who will consult for free, and who can offer you a referral to lawyers for more long-term help if needed.

As the poster above suggests, I'd find the hotline closest to you and start calling around, maybe using the more limited info: "I need legal advice relating to a sexual assault that happened overseas." If you're persistent and patient, it shouldn't be too hard to get past the gatekeepers and the volunteers and end up in a room with someone who is knowledgeable enough to get you the information you seek. Contrary to some of the other posters, above, I'd be wary about going to the university first: despite their best intentions, it's often painfully evident that their loyalties are divided, and you want to be meeting with people whom you can trust share your goals 100%. Finding a reputable rape crisis center is the first step.

You're doing the right thing. Good luck.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:28 AM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I absolutely support your goals here. You are doing something for the greater good but it is best to minimize the bad effects on yourself.

If you can't afford to consult with a lawyer, you definitely can't afford to face the legal action that might arise from the actions you're envisioning. So I would strongly suggest that you begin by trying to find an organization that would support you here. For example, the members of the Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology may have some idea of how best to proceed.

If the program is funded by the National Science Foundation, you can find the award in question with the NSF's Award Search. Try searching for the name of the program, the institution, or the names of people who might serve as project director. The award result should list the program officer in charge of the award. If you want to go after their funding, that is who you should start with. You can move up to Division Director and then the NSF Assistant Director of the directorate in question if you are unsatisfied. Finally you can go to the NSF Inspector General.

You may also be able to find information about funding on the IRS Form 990 returns from the institution, which you can get on GuideStar.
posted by grouse at 9:38 AM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am somewhat amused

We are not trying to amuse you. You want free legal advice. No one here is going to give you that. I am a lawyer with some experience with some of these issues, so I thought I would give you some general information that was not legal advice. The reason I (and presumably others) have asked what you seek to accomplish is that before one can figure out how to do something, one first needs to know the something to be done.

You ask "what would be admissible"? The answer is "it depends". If my state, any recorded conversation where all parties do not have knowledge and consent of the recording is inadmissible evidence. In the US, the evidence code varies from state to state and what is going to be admissible evidence is a detailed legal and factual inquiry on a case-by-case basis. That is why people have said that you need to consult with a lawyer in the relevant jurisdiction. But, you want free legal advice because you can't afford a consultation fee. If you can't afford a consultation fee, you can't afford to defend a suit against you or prosecute any conceivable counterclaim. I have a fair amount of involvement with my local legal aid society, and this is not a legal aid case. The local legal societies are funded by local taxes and serve the needs of local residents. They are not going to get involved a matter that involves a Canadian citizen against a US entity regarding events that took place in Panama. There is a decent chance that any potential lawsuit would be litigated in Panama.

I am sorry for what happened, but what I and others have discussed are the likely difficulties you may face. We aren't trying to give you a hard time. Please forgive me for replying a second time, but I thought that you were misunderstanding some of the comments here.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If the assault occurred in Panama you might try contacting the Canadian embassy there.
posted by fshgrl at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Tanizaki, I have to apologize for replying to you a second time. I have no doubt you were not attempting to amuse me. I responded that way because for me, it is the most positive spin I can put on feeling shamed. I recognize that the people responding to me here have far less control over how a damaged person like me will take their words than they themselves realize, but I nonetheless have to deal with the unintended (or, as is often the ugly case, intended) feelings of worthlessness people often cause in talking to victims/survivors in brusque, disinterested, or condescending ways. The world is bristling with people waiting to take every side but that of the victim, and it's remarkably easy from the perspective of someone who gets treated poorly to identify similar attitudes/treatment. I'm pointing this out as straightforwardly as you have given me the facts on your own area of expertise, Tanizaki: I wasn't misunderstanding some of the comments here, I was reacting to them. Those reactions are no one here's fault, but if anyone wants to learn how to talk to someone who has identified themself as having had something traumatic happen to them, perhaps they can keep what I'm saying in mind. You have no basis to say whether commenters, yourself included, were giving me a hard time, because you did not experience the time I had, reading the comments--fyi, it was tough.
You said no one was going to give me free legal advice, but many people have offered useful suggestions (people I suppose who were not professionally offended by the way in which I framed my request for input--I have certainly learned my lesson, and will never again assume that asking a question to strangers online carries with it the implicit suggestion that I am aware that I will not get lawyers telling me everything a lawyer would have told me if I'd gone to their office and paid). You, yourself, have offered valuable advice related to your experience as a lawyer--and I thank you for your concern about the difficulties I "may" face.
posted by qreus at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would like to thank the commenters who automatically went out of their way to be kind in this thread: you succeeded in helping me while giving me the sense that in your eyes, I maintain my dignity and value as a human being. Much appreciated.
posted by qreus at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do it. You have a responsibility towards society and the fact that you have this information puts you in a position to actually do something about it. A lawyer would help but hopefully you won't back down from doing what is right. Good luck to you.
posted by pakora1 at 2:30 PM on April 8, 2013

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