Proposed Class Action Settlement Gives UCLA Gynecologist Sex Abuse Victims Relief

Gynecological exams are important parts of women’s health. They are also often uncomfortable. But UCLA gynecologist James Heaps took his victims’ discomfort one step further, turning a necessary medical exam in to sex abuse. Now a proposed class action settlement could give all his patents some long-awaited relief.

UCLA Gynecologist Heaps Took Sexual Advantage of Patients

Julie Orsatti says she has flashbacks of Dr. James Heaps sexually assaulting her on the exam table. In 2019 she told USA Today that Heaps, a prominent gynecological oncologist working for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), gave her false diagnoses of gynecological cancer to keep her coming back to see him every few months. She said “He had his hands all over my body.”

Orsatti is one of more than 100 patients who have raised sex abuse complaints against Heaps. Ellen Carter, another of Heaps’s victims described his actions as:

“Using his entire hand and palm of his hand all over, lingering for too long. . . . And looking and telling me that my breasts were beautiful.”

A third victim, Gabriela Vasquez has an even more chilling tale. She told USA Today that Heaps used an ultrasound instrument to forcibly simulate the act of having sex with her.

Orsatti, Carter, and Vasquez were among more than 200 women who reported sexual assault complaints to UCLA for Heaps’s behavior between 1983 and 2018. In response to the reports, California has revoked James Heaps’s medical license. He now faces criminal charges for sexual battery based on his actions against seven women. Heaps has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and criminal case is still pending.

University Agrees to Class Action Settlement with All James Heaps’ Patients

However, many of the women who experienced sexual abuse say that UCLA was partially responsible for his behavior. Seven plaintiffs sued the university on behalf of the more than 6,600 women Heaps treated while part of the student health center and UCLA Medical Center. UCLA said it began to investigate Dr. Heaps in December 2017, but he was allowed to retire the following year after the university declined to renew his contract.

The lawsuit ultimately settled in November 2020 with a proposed settlement agreement that would make $73 million available to Dr. Heaps’s sexual assault victims. Under the class-action portion of the lawsuit, James Heaps’s more than 6,600 patients will be entitled to at least $2,500 even if they have not come forward with sex abuse allegations. Those who were minors at the time of treatment and those who experienced more severe forms of sex abuse could be entitled to far more, $250,000 or more based on their individual experiences. UCLA will also pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees in addition to the settlement amount. The settlement was preliminarily approved by the federal district court judge on January 11, 2021.

Even those injured early in Dr. Heaps’s career may have a claim. In October 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newson signed a new law creating a one year window for victims to file legal claims against Heaps and UCLA even if their claims would otherwise be too old under the state’s statute of limitations. More than 100 former patients have already filed individual lawsuits. Others will be able to opt out of the class action if they believe their claim is different or more severe.

Class Action Lawsuit Leads to Changes in UCLA Sex Abuse Safety Policies

In addition to the financial part of the settlement, UCLA is also agreeing to make significant changes to the way things happen in its medical center. The goal is to protect patient safety going forward. Based on the settlement, UCLA has agreed to:

  • Implement a new process to investigate complaints of sex assault, sexual harassment and misconduct
  • Institute a formal chaperone policy
  • Train medical personnel on boundaries
  • Advertise patients’ reporting options
  • Investigate potential misconduct allegations when credentialing medical staff
  • Have their compliance monitored by an independent agent

These kinds of policy changes can be hard to win in an individual lawsuit. However, class actions demonstrate systemic problems and can more easily lead to systemic changes. While the relief granted to the individual patients and sex abuse victims is important, the changes UCLA has promised are designed to make sure that kind of sexual abuse never happen again.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, team of sexual abuse attorneys know how to use the tools of individual and class action lawsuits to get relief for sex abuse victims. If you have been sexually assaulted by a medical provider, we can speak with you from our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help you get compensation for the harm done. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sex abuse attorney.

Hollywood Seeks to Close Gender Gap but Sex Abusers Find New Work

Hollywood’s TV, movie, and streaming producers have been making space for diversity in lead roles and seeking to close the gender gap following years of sexual harassment complaints. But it seems there is still space for those with checkered histories too. Sex abusers are finding new work, and some advocates say the change hasn’t been enough.

MeToo, Time’s Up, and ReFrame Put Gender Gap and Diversity Issues Center Stage

Over the past two and a half years, the #MeToo movement has been calling out sex abusers within the entertainment industry. The most famous of these was producer Harvey Weinstein, co-owner of the Weinstein Company, who was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual conduct earlier this year in New York state court. Similar allegations have been raised against Hollywood A-List actor Cuba Gooding Jr., and John Lasseter, chief creative officer and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios. The streaming video industry has faced its own problems with sex abuse. In 2018, Roy Price stepped down as head of Amazon Studios after being accused of sexual harassment. He was replaced by Jennifer Sallke, formerly of NBC Entertainment.

Advocates Call for Increased Representation, Starting at the Top

Advocates for women and minorities know that it isn’t enough to remove a few bad actors. That’s why they have been pressuring Hollywood to close the gender gap and introduce more diversity into its programming, both on screen and behind the camera. And it’s been working.

The New York Times reports that the Hollywood entertainment industry is becoming more inclusive, thanks in part to streaming services demanding new and more varied content. Women and people of color have been stepping into more leading roles and director positions, finding their own place in an industry that has historically been male and white. Melissa Rosenberg, creator of the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” and executive producer for “Dexter” said she has begun to notice a change in corporate culture.

“‘There were very specific intentions from the studio and the network to have diverse voices in the room,’ … She added that she had been told, ‘You will not have a room without people of color and diversity of gender and sexual orientation.’

“‘That was a big change,’” Ms. Rosenberg said. “‘When I was coming up it would be sufficient to have one woman in the room — to represent the female voice — and she was often the lowest-paid writer, too.’”

Hollywood Introduces Intimacy Coordinators to Protect Against Sex Abuse on Set

While more women and people of color have been coming into positions of power, their right to consent is also coming into sharper focus. Entertainment industry heavyweights like HBO have begun requiring intimacy coordinators (also called intimacy directors in theater) for scenes involving nudity intimacy. These intimacy coordinators explain their jobs as “fight choreography for sex scenes.” However, they are also responsible for making certain the actors involved are comfortable with role they are playing.

In the past, intimate scenes were essentially improvised until the director was satisfied. Actress Humberly González explained that sometimes that resulted in actors doing more than they bargained for:

“She and her scene partner, whom she met earlier that day, were going to be filmed kissing from outside a camping tent, outlined in silhouette. There was no rehearsal and no specific choreography. When it was time to shoot, the two actors clambered inside the tent and were instructed to ‘just go for it,’ González recalled, while the director watched from outside, shouting evaluations.

In González’s situation, she and her scene partner were touching the whole time, and he became unintentionally aroused. ‘It was so awkward,’ González said.

However, speaking up about their emotional needs often came with a price. González explained that if she had raised her feelings of discomfort, she may have been perceived as a problem or even “lose the job.”

“There’s always this very scary feeling of: If I share my true feelings, am I going to be hired again?”

That’s where the intimacy coordinators come in. They serve as a go-between, helping to choreograph intimate scenes in a way that respects the actors’ feelings and consent, while still allowing directors to get the shot.

Sex Abusers Find New Work, Showing Power is Still in “White Dudes’” Hands

At the same time, many men accused of sexual harassment and abuse have been able to find new work. Lasseter, for example, is now working in a high position at Skydance Animation. David Glasser and Bob Weinstein, former partners at the Weinstein Company, have each opened their own production companies. Mr. Glasser has already raised $300 million in financing to once again become a major player in the industry.

Those women who stepped up to fill the vacuum of power at the top, are also finding themselves pushed back down the ladder. Earlier this year, Amazon brought in former Sony executive Mike Hopkins to oversee Amazon’s video entertainment business, placing him between Ms. Salke and Jeff Bezos, the company founder. Nina Jacobson, a veteran producer and the former president of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group told the New York Times:

“No matter how much things are shifting in the right direction, when you get to the top of these media companies, you will usually find a white dude. . . . The power behind the power is still white and male, and in terms of truly passing the torch in corporate life, the torch has not yet been passed.”

Even in light of Hollywood’s push to close the gender gap and improve diversity in lead roles, it is clear that sexual harassment and abuse are not going away anytime soon. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced sexual abuse attorneys and sexual harassment attorneys know how to respond when sex abuse rears its head on the job. We can meet with you at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help navigate the criminal, civil, and regulatory processes needed to help you find justice. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual abuse attorney.

Sex Abuse Lawsuits Send Boy Scouts to Bankruptcy Court

Thousands of former boy scouts nationwide have come forward to say they were sexually abused as children by their scout leaders, counselors, and others within the organization. There have been so many complaints and sex abuse lawsuits that they forced the Boy Scouts to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Depending on where you live, that could be good news for victims or a ticking clock on when you can file your claims.

Boy Scouts of America’s “Red Flag List” Show Decades Long History of Child Sex Abuse

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA or Boy Scouts) have been around for more than 100 years. Founded in 1916, they have stood for patriotism, courage, and self-reliance for generations of boys, young men, and starting in 2017, girls too. However, for nearly as long as there have been boy scouts, there have been pedophiles looking to take advantage of the organization to get access to those boys.

In 1935, the New York Times published an article revealing that the organization had a “red flag list” of scout leaders who had been removed from the organization for moral reasons. The physical cards in the Boy Scouts’ two catalogs of volunteers (one alphabetical and one geographical), were marked with red labels when problems were brought to their attention, so that the organization could look carefully at the volunteers’ records if they ever resurfaced in another location.

However, as the organization grew, the Boy Scouts consolidated those red cards into a “red flag list” of 2,919 men who had been dismissed from their positions as scout leaders.  Scout troops were supposed to consult that Red Flag List as part of volunteers’ background checks. However, even in 1935, the BSA were aware that, “Sometimes, in spite of these rigid requirements, a moral degenerate may slip through.” That is due in part to the fact that the list itself is strictly confidential. It was not released until 2012, when the Oregon Supreme Court ordered that the records be made public.

Nearly 2000 Former Scouts File Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Last year, a group called Abused in Scouting gathered up nearly 2,000 people with complaints of child sex abuse against Boy Scouts of America — including at least one from every state. Their ages range from 8 to 93.

And then New York passed the Child Victims Act. Effective August 14, 2019, this law lengthened the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse and pornography cases. It also created a one-year window for victims of abuse to file no matter how old their claim was. The Abused in Scouting group and other sex abuse attorneys have used this law and others like it in New Jersey, California, and Arizona to file their claims all at once and put pressure in the Boy Scouts to settle quickly without expensive lawsuits.

Boy Scouts of America Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

That pressure appears to have worked. On February 17, 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware. The petition will allow the organization to continue operations while reorganizing to consolidate and pay off its debts. According to the BSA’s initial filings, the national organization (without the local Boy Scouts councils) had more than $1 billion in assets, and liabilities valued between $500 and $1 billion. That included money owed to former employees, and 25 law firms representing child sex abuse victims from across the country.

What the BSA’s Bankruptcy Means for Child Sex Abuse Victims

By filing for bankruptcy, the BSA has put a temporary stop (called an automatic stay) to all lawsuits against it. Instead, as part of the bankruptcy process, the Boy Scouts are asking for the court to set aside a single pool of money — a compensation trust fund — to pay off anyone with claims based on activity before the filing date. This compensation trust fund could be paid for by selling off BSA property, including campgrounds and hiking trails. To qualify for a part of the trust fund, former scouts and other victims will need to be ready to file their claims within a short window of opportunity, or their claim will be barred forever.

For child sex abuse victims in states with strict statutes of limitations, this bankruptcy settlement could provide an opportunity to get compensation when it is too late to file a claim in their state courts. However, for New York residents, this bankruptcy process threatens to cut short the legislative grace period. It will force everyone, even those whose cases just recently happened, to file their claims now, rather than waiting until they are emotionally ready to tell their stories.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, team of sexual abuse attorneys know how to navigate compensation trust funds to help you protect your claims for child sexual abuse. We can speak with you and your family from our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help you get compensation for your scout leader’s sexual misconduct. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual abuse attorney.

Southern Baptist Convention Ejects Church Over Sex Offender Pastor

Earlier this year, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, expelled a small church in Texas because its pastor was a known sex offender. This was the first action taken under the denomination’s new sex abuse protocols. But advocates say it isn’t enough to respond to the wave of complaints against evangelical pastors and churches in Texas and across the country.

Evangelical Families Speak Out About Sex Abuse by Pastors

Last year, in the midst of a host of complaints about sex abuse in the Catholic Church, one Evangelical family was saying “Us Too.” Christi Bragg and her family went to the New York Times seeking help after her daughter (now an adult) reported that a church associate children’s minister had sexually assaulted her at a church camp.

The Braggs attended one of the most popular Southern Baptist churches in the country, Village Church. While they were members, in 2012, the Braggs’ daughter, age 11 at the time, attended a summer camp hosted by the Village Church. She said she woke in her cabin to find her undergarments pulled down and youth minister Matthew Tonne sitting on her bed touching her. A light turned on in the bathroom nearby and the man left.

As a result of the abuse, the Braggs’ daughter suffered emotional trauma, nightmares, and depression. She had gone through hours of counseling and medical treatments. At one point she even considered suicide, but decided not to kill herself so her sisters would not find her dead.

The Braggs’ daughter first reported the incident to her mother in February 2018. She immediately filed a police report and alerted the church. However, neither the church nor the Southern Baptist denomination had clear rules for how to deal with sex abuse allegations. While the criminal investigation continued, Ms. Bragg fought to get the church to recognize what had happened to her daughter and their family, or even talk to her.

Membership Covenant Stands Between Victims and the Courts

The Village Church and others within the Southern Baptist denomination, require their members to sign a Membership Covenant — a contract promising to follow the rules of the church. The Membership Covenant the Braggs signed promised that they would “practice complete chastity” except within a heterosexual marriage, and “diligently strive for unity and peace within the church.” It also included a binding arbitration clause.

That clause said that members could not sue the church. Instead, they had to go through mediation and arbitration to resolve any disputes. But when the Braggs attempted to mediate their concerns, no pastors participated, and no resolution was reached. The Bragg daughter (now an adult) has filed a lawsuit despite the arbitration clause, but its outcome is uncertain.

In the meantime, the church had removed Mr. Tonne, not for sex abuse, but a claimed alcohol problem. According to the church, the problem had been resolved because Tonne was no longer an employee. He had been indicted and criminal charges were pending against him, but the church leaders did not even tell the congregation why.

Southern Baptist Convention Adopts Sex Abuse Policy

The Braggs are far from alone in their struggle. In early 2019, the Houston Chronicle published an investigation naming 400 Southern Baptist leaders who had been accused of sexual misconduct or crimes against more than 700 victims since 1998.  Still, sex abuse was seen as a Catholic problem. It was not until June 2019, at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, that the denomination finally addressed the problem in a concerted way.

With protestors and advocates picketing outside the venue, the denomination leaders passed two policy changes. They voted to create a centralized committee to evaluate allegations and amend their constitution to allow churches to be expelled if sex abuse allegations were substantiated (proven). The denomination’s president, J.D. Greear, called for the new committee to investigate 10 churches for how they had handled sex abuse allegations against them. Seven of those 10 churches were cleared within days.

Church Ejected Over Sex Offender Pastor Isn’t Enough, Advocates Say

But the policy was not entirely fruitless. In February 2020, one year after the Houston Chronicle report was published, church leaders voted to eject Ranchland Heights Baptist Church from the Souther Baptist Convention.

The church was removed after hiring pastor Phillip Rutledge. In 2003, before working for the church, Rutledge was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 11 and 12. As a result of that conviction, Rutledge is a lifelong registered sex offender. His status is publicly accessible on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website. Local church officials had previously admitted that they knew of Rutledge’s conviction when they hired him. A church deacon said the leaders believed that God had forgiven him.

The church’s ejection was the first step in enforcing the Southern Baptist Convention’s new sex abuse policy. But victims’ advocates say it is not enough.

“I’m grateful to see this step being taken,” Rachael Denhollander, who advises the denomination in its sex abuse study group, said of Tuesday’s decision. “At the same time, this is only the smallest of first steps and the beginning of what is needed to make our churches places of safety and refuge.”

In fact, the denomination has taken the position it cannot even enforce employment standards against sex offenders. It says that because each member church is its own legal entity, the denomination does not hire or fire pastors. The denomination also refuses to disclose how many complaints the review committee has received, perpetuating the same culture of secrecy the Braggs fought against at the Village Church.

It is not enough for a single church to be removed because of a bad hiring decision. Church members turn to their pastors and their denominations for support during their darkest times. When those pastors are the ones committing the sex abuse against their church’s children, they and the denominations that support thm must be held accountable for their actions.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have a team of attorneys who know how to fight back against sex abuse and sexual harassment. Led by Attorney Adriana Alcalde, our sexual abuse attorneys will stand beside you, even against your church or denomination. We will work hard to help you navigate the courts, and any Membership Agreements, to make sure your family receives the justice you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

Sex Abuse Victims’ Testimonies Lead to Harvey Weinstein’s Guilty Verdict

On February 24, 2020, former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two felony sex crimes by a New York State Supreme Court jury. This guilty verdict is a milestone in the #MeToo movement, and comes thanks to the hard work and testimony by his sex abuse victims. (Trigger Warning: This blog post contains descriptions of sexual assault.)

Sex Assault Case Puts #MeToo Movement on Trial

In 2017, several actresses came together to talk to reporters. They told stories about how, as aspiring actors, they had been taken advantage of by one man, Harvey Weinstein. They said the big-name Hollywood producer had used his power and privilege to convince, coerce, and sometimes force these young hopefuls into sexual encounters they didn’t want.

After more than 2 years, and dozens more women coming forward to add their stories, the #MeToo movement finally resulted in the New York state prosecutors filing criminal charges against Weinstein. But they weren’t as inclusive as many had hoped. Despite police interviewing more than 70 witnesses and investigating at least 14 sexual assault allegations, the case ultimately came down to two sex abuse victims’ sexual abuse claims, and one charge of predatory sexual assault representing Weinstein’s pattern of sexually offensive behavior. In the words of activist Tarana Burke:

“Most of us will never see the inside of the courtroom, but these women got to take the stand, look him in the eye and say, ‘You did this to me.’”

The small scope of the trial is the result of the decades of time and thousands of miles separating the #MeToo survivors and their claims. Most of the actresses who came forward spoke of incidents that happened outside of New York’s jurisdiction. Many others’ allegations were simply too old to meet the New York criminal statute of limitations. To some, that meant the #MeToo movement hung on the ability of a handful of sex assault survivors to tell their story.

Sex Abuse Victims Testify to Decades of Rape and Sexual Misconduct

The first sex abuse victim to take the stand was Annabella Sciorra, of “The Sopranos”. She was one of those survivors whose stories predated the statute of limitations, but prosecutors asked her to testify to show Weinstein’s pattern of sexual assault and abuse. She described how her relationship with Harvey Weinstein evolved since the early 1990s when she was an up-and-coming actress and he was a young producer. She said he would sometimes make “inappropriate” gestures, like giving her a box of chocolate penises. Then, in late 1993 or early 1994, Weinstein forced himself into her Manhattan apartment and raped her. When she confronted him weeks later, she testified he threatened her, saying, “This remains between you and I.” She never contacted the police, believing what had happened didn’t qualify as rape. But the attack left emotional scars, causing her to drink heavily and cut herself. She reported that Weinstein continued to stalk her for several years after that. In 1997, she testified that he showed up at her hotel room in his underwear, carrying baby oil and a videotape.

The jury also heard from sex abuse victim Mimi Haleyi, a production assistant on “Project Runway” who testified that Weinstein had forced oral sex on her in his TriBeCa apartment in 2006, and from another confidential victim, who was an aspiring actress in 2013 when Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room. Three other women also told their stories of sexual misconduct to help establish that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of sexual predation. Lucia Evans was originally included as a victim and intended to testify, but her accusations of sexual assault against Weinstein were later dropped from the case. When asked about the trial, she said:

“I am so impressed by the women who participated in the criminal case up through the verdict. Witnessing firsthand many of the obstacles that stood in their way only deepens my appreciation of their courage. I truly wish I was given the opportunity to stand next to them, to see my case through to the end.”

Sexual Assault Survivors Face Victim-Blaming Cross-Examination

As a powerful public figure, Harvey Weinstein had hired an equally powerful set of criminal defense attorneys. Their job was to poke holes in the victims’ stories and create doubt in the juror’s minds. For Ms. Sciorra, that cross-examination quickly turned to claims that she was lying and victim blaming. The defense attorneys pointed out:

  • She could not remember the exact date of the assault
  • Her memory of certain details was unclear
  • She opened her apartment door without first finding out who is on the other side
  • She didn’t run
  • She didn’t see a doctor or call the police after the incident

Weinstein’s attorney Damon Cheronis also claimed that the two victims in the case were actually in consensual relationships with the man to further their careers, saying “The truth is, there was nothing nonconsensual about it.”

These tactics are common in sexual abuse cases and take advantage behaviors common to many trauma survivors. Fatima Goss Graves, President of the National Women’s Law Center explained:

“What defense attorneys do is create a narrative that only one type of person could experience sexual violence, and that there is only one type of response. They discount behaviors that are actually really typical in an effort to blame victims.”

For example, traumatic memories are often stored in disjointed, non-linear ways in the victims’ brains. This means that they are often unable to remember important details, or say specifically when and where the incident occurred. They also exploit the power imbalance between victim and abuser, calling out victims for not coming forward sooner, or for not immediately cutting their abusers out of their lives when, in fact, they often feel powerless to do either.

What is Next for Harvey Weinstein

After all the witnesses had testified, the jury was asked to deliberate on three charges: two counts of criminal sexual misconduct, and one count of being a sexual predator. They found Weinstein guilty of the two individual felony sex crimes, but not guilty of the charge based on his pattern of behavior against multiple victimes. Weinstein was taken to jail (after a brief visit to a hospital because of chest pains). He will remain there until he can be sentenced. He could face up to 29 years in prison. Weinstein’s attorneys have already promised to appeal the decision.

Weinstein also still faces similar charges in Los Angeles, California. That indictment was announced on the first day of the New York trial and will likely take time to come to trial. The Weinstein legal team may also be more inclined to settle now that he has already been convicted once.

Sex assault victims need strong advocacy, not just by prosecutors, but by private sex abuse attorneys who understand the cost of seeing a sexual assault claim to its conclusion. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced sexual abuse attorneys know how to do just that. We can meet with you at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help navigate the criminal, civil, and regulatory processes needed to help you find justice. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual abuse attorney.

Victims Feel Left Out of Methodist Church’s Response to Sexual Harassment Charges

The Catholic Church isn’t the only religious organization dealing with sexual harassment charges against their religious leaders. But when the United Methodist Church said it had reached a “Just Resolution” with one of the denomination’s most visible pastors, the victims of his sexual misconduct said they felt left out.

Victims Raise Sexual Harassment Charges Against Progressive Methodist Pastor

In November 2018, four women came forward to file sexual harassment complaints with the United Methodist Church against one man: Rev. Donald “Bud” Heckman. Heckman was a well-known progressive pastor from the West Ohio Conference. Famous for his work on inter-faith projects and diversity projects, Heckman had even served on a White House Interreligious Cooperation Task Force during the Obama administration.

But at the same time, Heckman is alleged to have been engaging in unethical and illegal treatment of women he worked with, including his ex-wife. The charges filed with the United Methodist Church alleged the following:

Inter-Faith Conference Leads to Unwelcome Sexual Advances

Megan Anderson, a former student-journalist for The Interfaith Observer met Heckman at the Parliament of World Religions in 2015 in Salt Lake City. Heckman served on the publication’s advisory board at the time. Anderson says he urged her to come to his hotel room then invited her onto his bed and groped her. She left immediately. However, she says Heckman sent her explicit text messages for months afterward expressing sexual fantasies and a desire to marry her.

Professional Promises and False Claims of Relationships

Emily Farthing’s claims against Heckman were similar. She met him at the 2014 North American Interfaith Network Conference, where she was receiving a young adult scholar award. She says Heckman sought her out offering professional advice and grant-writing assistance to help her get into divinity school. He even paid for her room. Then the sexually explicit texts started. At one point Farthing says Heckman came into her room in his underwear and sat on her bed. Eventually she says she stood up to him, refusing his desire to sleep with her. However, she says she learned later that he had been telling other women they had dated and that he helped her through a dark time.

Threats of Deportation After Dating Relationship Ends

K.R., who uses her initials out of fear of retaliation, says she also met Heckman through her interfaith work. She dated him in 2011 and early 2012, when she learned he was still married (he had told her he was divorced), and says she discovered him with another woman. A few months later, he started emailing, calling, and coming to her apartment. According to her charges, “It was a combination of ‘I love you’ and ‘If you leave me I will do XYZ to you.’” K.M. who was in the U.S. on a work visa, says Heckman even threatened to prevent her from staying in the United States.

K.R. filed a report with the New York Police Department in July 2012. Heckman was arrested and pleaded guilty to non-criminal disorderly conduct. He was required to undergo counseling and comply with a two-year protection order.

Christian Morality Standards and an Ex-Wife’s Charges

The fourth woman in the United Methodist Church’s charges was Heckman’s ex-wife, Laura Heckman. She said she and Bud had been married for 20 years when he moved out in 2011. Then she learned about his affairs with other women, including K.R. Laura Heckman’s complaints are not sexual harassment as far as secular courts are concerned. However, the complaint raised concerns about the pastor’s violation of church morality rules against adultery and sexual behavior outside of marriage.

United Methodist Church Settles Complaints in Just Resolution

The West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church received the women’s complaints and reviewed them. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer issued a statement:

 “The West Ohio Conference takes seriously any allegation of a chargeable offense against a pastor.”

The charges included sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and being uncelibate when single and unfaithful while married in violation of church rules. Heckman was suspended from active ministry pending a church trial– an internal process that could have caused him to lose his position, and his credentials as a pastor — originally scheduled for early December 2019. On December 23, 2019, the West Ohio Conference issued a statement saying the church had reached a Just Resolution with Heckman and that no church trial would occur.

That Just Resolution of the women’s complaints said that Heckman would “retire under complaint.” He would lose his appointment and would no longer perform ministerial activities within the United Methodist Church. Heckman also “acknowledged his regret in not being faithful to the ministerial covenant” by performing immoral acts, harassment, and misconduct. Bishop Palmer called the complaint an “arduous process, a burden, especially for the complainants.” He said:

“I deeply regret the harm that has been caused to any person due to an act of sexual misconduct by a pastor. There is no excuse. . . . It is my fervent prayer that all who have been impacted by this matter may continue to heal.”

Sexual Harassment Victims Feel Left Out of Church’s “Just Resolution”

But this resolution to the women’s complaints didn’t feel “just” to them. Megan Anderson told the New York Times:

“I really don’t feel like we were heard. . . . He’s getting a slap on the hand. It leaves victims out of the picture.”

When Heckman’s trial was postponed and then cancelled in favor of the Just Resolution, the accusers say they were left out of the church’s investigative process. They were not required to approve the agreement, and in fact, never signed it. Laura Heckman said:

“It was an opportunity, that’s the saddest part. What I hoped was that the church would take a stand and be an advocate for women, to demonstrate that they are honored and protected. . . . We were completely isolated and left out of the conversation.”

Victims Need Advocates to Make Their Voices Heard

The United Methodist Church isn’t the only organization with an internal process that removes sexual harassment victims from the investigation. Often, after a complainant comes forward with sexual misconduct charges, they are pushed to the side while investigators and Human Resources officers investigate and settle the claims on their own. The victims’ only recourse if they feel the settlement is not enough is to file sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or their state anti-discrimination agency. However, as with the women in Heckman’s case, many victims of sexual harassment don’t come forward until long after the deadline to file an EEOC complaint has passed. Others, like Laura Heckman, have sexual misconduct claims that don’t fit into the definition of discrimination on a state or federal level.

That is why it is so important for the victims of sexual harassment and abuse to talk to someone early — in the weeks or months after the misconduct, if possible — to protect their claims. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have sexual harassment and sex abuse attorneys who know how to approach these claims from all sides, from employment-based charges with the EEOC, to civil lawsuits, to criminal charges. We can help you decide whether to rely on your organization’s internal processes, or go public by filing a federal claim or lawsuit. If you are facing sexual harassment within your religious organization, we can help. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to an attorney.

What to Do About Defamation Lawsuits Filed in Response to Sexual Misconduct Claims

Coming forward with sexual misconduct claims requires courage and conviction. The idea that your abuser may turn the tables and take you to court may be enough to threaten your confidence. But if your story is true, even a defamation lawsuit filed in response to your sexual misconduct claims can work in your favor and help you get the recovery you need.

#MeToo Abusers Use Defamation Lawsuits to Silence Accusers

Since 2017, the victims of sexual abuse and misconduct have taken to social media to tell their stories as part of the #MeToo movement. This social media hashtag and the media reports surrounding it have cast spotlights on men and women in positions of power who used their influence to coerce, or even force their victims into sexual positions. Across the country, these accused men and women have been removed from their board positions, been fired or forced to resign, and in some cases, faced criminal charges as a result of their sexual misconduct.

The victims of this sexual misconduct have filed charges with the New York Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in state and federal court, seeking compensation for the emotional, financial, and in some cases physical damage caused by the sexual abuse. Some of those accused as part of the #MeToo movement have gone to court themselves, filing defamation lawsuits in response to their accusers’ sexual misconduct claims, putting these survivors on the defensive and forcing them to prove that their stories are true.

Defamation and Reputational Harm

Defamation is a civil lawsuit saying that the defendant’s false statements cause the plaintiff reputational harm and make it harder for the person to work or live in their community. In New York, when a plaintiff sues for libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation), he or she must show:

  • The defendant made a statement (aloud or in writing)
  • That statement was false
  • The statement was published or made to a third person without the privilege or authority to do so
  • In doing so the defendant at least negligently ignored the falsity of the statement
  • Which caused harm to the plaintiff

When the person has taken steps to become a public figure — including politicians, media personalities, and some business leaders — that person’s status makes it harder for them to prove the statements were made with “actual malice” and not just mistakenly false.

Even with their status as public figures, some of those accused have filed defamation claims against their past victims as a way to beat them to the courthouse, frame the issue in a way that hurts the survivor, and ideally intimidate them into withdrawing their claims. They will use any variation in the story or apparent gaps as a loophole to claim the statement was false, and their reputation was harmed as a result. To defend defamation lawsuits filed in response to sexual misconduct claims, you and your sexual abuse attorney should work to establish the truth of your claim and that yours was the reputation that was harmed.

Sexual Misconduct Survivors Turn Defamation Cases in Their Favor

Not every defamation claim hurts sexual misconduct survivors, though. Some victims of long-ago sexual assault have used this type of case as a last effort to bring their abusers to justice. Until New York lengthened the statute of limitations for filing sex abuse lawsuits, many victims of sexual misconduct came forward years after the alleged incidents, only to find they had missed their chance to prove their case.

However, when public disclosures of sexual misconduct resulted in personal attacks against survivors, those attacks often were grounds for their own defamation lawsuits. For example, when Ashley Judd came forward with accusations against Harvey Weinstein, her allegations were too old to file a lawsuit in California (where the acts occurred). But then, Director Peter Jackson said that he had removed her from a casting list for his now-famous “Lord of the Rings” films after Weinstein told him Judd was a “nightmare” to work with and should be avoided “at all costs.” Since this was the first Judd had learned of the false statements (slander), she was able to file a defamation lawsuit saying that Weinstein’s words had caused her reputational harm and damaged her career.

Defamation vs Retaliation Claims in Sexual Misconduct Cases

Judd’s defamation lawsuit also closely mirrors the retaliation claims many employees file against their employers after their retaliation claims result in the company firing the wrong person. Title VII and state anti-discrimination laws include protections against this kind of retaliation, giving employees a separate complaint any time a claim results in an “adverse employment action”.

But sexual misconduct isn’t limited to the workplace. When abusers use defamation lawsuits as a form of retaliation, the battle for the truth takes place in the courtroom, rather than the EEOC office. That’s when survivors and their attorneys need to be diligent and hold to their claims. By refusing to back down, these survivors can show the courts, and the public, the truth of their claims, turning the cases back against their abusers, and finally get the compensation they deserve.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have a team of attorneys who know how to fight back against sex abuse and sexual harassment. Led by Attorney Adriana Alcalde, our sexual abuse attorneys will stand beside you when your abuser tries to use a defamation lawsuit to silence you. We’ll help you get the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

Congress Considers National Law to Help Control Online Sexual Abuse Materials

Imagine you are working with the police to track down someone who has distributed your child’s image online only to be told that the social media company storing the image had deleted it. How would you feel if a 90 day policy window closed preventing you from getting justice against your child’s abuser? A new federal bill seeks to stop that from happening by giving police and prosecutors more time to build their cases.

END Child Exploitation Act Buys Time for Busy Investigators

On December 10, 2019, Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican from Ohio, submitted a 2-page bill with 7 co-sponsors showing bi-partisan support. HR 5376, the Eliminate Network Distribution of Children Exploitation Act (END Child Exploitation Act), proposes one simply thing: to extend the amount of time communications companies like Google, Dropbox, and Facebook are required to retain child sexual abuse materials they find on their platforms.

Right now, federal law requires these providers to report any child pornography or other sexually abusive content to a federal CyberTipline and preserve the contents of those reports for 90 days while investigators follow up on the tips. But for many state and local police departments, 90 days is simply not enough time to complete their investigation. The END Child Exploitation Act would expand that period to 180 days. It would also allow providers to voluntarily retain the images and videos longer if doing so is part of an effort to “reduc[e] the proliferation of online child sexual exploitation or prevent[] the online sexual exploitation of children.”

45 Million Child Sexual Abuse Materials Found in 2018 Alone

In late 2019, the New York Times reported that cloud storage and social media companies were facing an overwhelming number of digital child pornography images. In 2018, a record 45 million photos and videos were flagged as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). That number has been growing uncontrollably for more than a decade. In 2008, the number was less than 1 million images, but Washington already felt it was facing a crisis. Tech companies, law enforcement agencies, and federal legislators came together to create the PROTECT Our Children Act, which became law on October 13, 2008.

But as the problem continued to grow, the law, and the law enforcement agencies who enforce it can’t keep up. The Justice Department, which the PROTECT Our Children Act empowered to fight the problem, never even wrote mandatory monitoring reports or assigned a senior-executive level employee to handle the matter. At the same time, law enforcement agencies have difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled IT professionals with the technological knowledge and ability to perform the investigations. Some have taken to prioritizing cases based on the age of the victim. The New York Times reports:

 “‘We go home and think, “Good grief, the fact that we have to prioritize by age is just really disturbing,”’ said Detective Paula Meares, who has investigated child sex crimes for more than 10 years at the Los Angeles Police Department.”

Tech Companies Drag Their Feet in Responding to Investigators

According to the Times, one significant bottleneck in investigating child sexual abuse materials online is the tech companies themselves. Microsoft has developed tools to automatically screen for child pornography and other illegal or illicit content, but it and other tech companies refuse to use it consistently across all their platforms. Federal law requires them to report any CSAM they find, but they aren’t required to look. When investigators send requests for information, they can take weeks or months to respond, if at all. By then, the 90-day retention window has often passed, and their response is simply that the company has no records.

Funding continues to be a problem as well. Congress has allocated $60 million to the issue, but diverted about half of that money to state and local law enforcement rather than the Department of Justice, which oversees investigations that cross state lines. The Department of Homeland Security has also diverted nearly $6 million from cybercrimes to immigration enforcement — a 40% budget cut.

The problem isn’t just with the government either. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children faces ever-evolving technological encryption using 20-year-old technology. With their limited resources, it is hard to keep engineers on the job.

The END Child Exploitation Act hopes to help investigators catch more of these cyber-criminals by forcing tech companies to hold on to the reported images long enough for investigators to complete their investigations. The bill was immediately referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but there has been no activity since that time. However, simply extending the timeline won’t solve all the problems facing law enforcement agencies and child sex abuse survivors’ advocates. Sex abuse victims’ advocates, legislators, and law enforcement will need to work together to find new solutions to protect children and their families from this ever-growing threat to their privacy and personal dignity.

At Eisenberg & Baum, our sexual abuse attorneys to stand beside child victims and their families against their abusers and the social media companies. We know how to work with law enforcement and tech companies to get the evidence you need to protect your loved ones. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

A Parents’ Guide to Responding to Children Who Report Sexual Abuse

It’s one of the hardest things a parent ever has to face: their children reporting sexual abuse. What do you do if your kid comes to you and says the worst has happened? Who should you talk to, when, and what shouldn’t you say or do around your child?

Your Child Said Someone Hurt Them, What Do You Say Back?

The single most important thing for a parent to do after a child reports sexual abuse is to give that child the love and support they need to move past the harm. As emotional as that moment may be for you, your child needs to know that they will be okay, and that they are not “damaged” by what has happened.

That starts with your response to your children when they report sexual abuse. Thank them for telling you and believe what they say. Most historical studies about false claims of sexual abuse by children show less than 10% of all allegations were made up. Most of those were by adolescents seeking revenge or a change in their custodial environment. So if your child comes to you and says something inappropriate happened, you should treat that as truth, no matter how much you would rather it wasn’t.

Next, stay calm and be clear about what they are telling you. Ask questions in an open way without suggesting the answer you want to hear. For example, rather than saying, “He didn’t have sex with you, did he?” you could ask, “What did he do with you in the bedroom?” Try not let your face tell your child that you are relieved or disappointed with their answers. Children will often change their stories if they feel like they are causing pain or upsetting others — especially their parents. This doesn’t mean the sexual assault didn’t happen, but it could make it harder to prove what did occur later on.

Give Your Child Their Safety, Autonomy, and Privacy

Once that initial, painful conversation is over, work with your child and the other adults in their life to make them feel safe. Make sure your child understands that the person that assaulted him or her is the one who did something wrong, not them. Listen to what your child needs to feel protected, and let them do whatever makes them feel safe and comfortable, even if it seems unreasonable to you. This will help them understand they are in control of their own body. At the same time, pay attention to any behaviors that are regressive (bed wetting, sleeping with parents in their bed, sucking thumbs) because these may be symptoms of trauma.

You should also be working with the adults in your child’s life to ensure their safety. If the perpetrator of the abuse is a family member or family friend, take steps to make sure that person is never alone with your child. Create a safety plan with your child’s other parent, caregivers, teachers, and other mentors to shield them from their abuser while protecting their privacy.

Find Professionals to Help You

No one can or should be expected to respond to children who report sexual abuse alone. There are a number of professionals whose job it is to help you along the way:


Sexual assault of a child is illegal in all 50 states. Anytime a child reports being sexually assaulted by an adult, you should contact the police right away to issue a report and start the criminal investigation. This is true even if the abuser is a member of your family or someone you care about. If this person was willing to take inappropriate actions with your child, he or she may do it again to another child unless someone intervenes. Also, as a parent of a sexually assaulted child, failing to take reasonable steps to report and respond to abuse — including filing a police report — can sometimes result in protective services action against you.

Pediatrician or Physician

Sexual intercourse can physically harm young children. If you believe that your child has engaged in sex you should have them examined by their pediatrician or family physician. In some cases, the police will want a medical examination done right away — even before the child has a chance to bathe — in the hope that physical evidence of the abuser may be preserved. Even if the incident happened days ago or longer, you should still have your child see a doctor to make sure there are no physical injuries. The doctor may also be able to recommend a therapist or counselor to help your child deal with the emotional effects of the traumatic event.

A Sex Abuse Victim’s Advocate

Not everything that should happen after a child reports sexual assault needs to happen right away, and you may not even know everything on that list. It is a good idea to speak to a sex abuse attorney or victim’s advocate soon after the report happens. Some prosecuting attorneys’ offices will assign victims advocates to cases that result in criminal charges, but the work they do is limited to that case. A private sex abuse attorney, like our team at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, can help you identify and connect with the right professionals, prioritize between the demands on you and your child, and help protect your son or daughter’s rights, keeping them from revictimization or becoming traumatized again because of the process.

Forensic Investigators

In many cases, the criminal investigation of a report of child sexual assault will include a forensic examination and interview by a professional trained to help children tell their stories. It is best if these interviews happen early in the investigative process, before a child has time, or a reason, to change their story.

Psychologists and Therapists

In many cases, the most important professional in your child’s life after a sexual assault is their counselor. A psychologist or therapist trained in trauma recovery can help your child better articulate what happened to them, learn coping mechanisms to deal with the emotional aspects of recovery, and give them a safe space to say whatever they are feeling, even about you. Be sure to protect that confidential relationship. Your child’s therapist may want to speak to you about things that are said or done in therapy or explain how you can help encourage your child between sessions, but you should not press your child to find out what was said in a private session.

Express Your Own Feelings in a Mature Way, Away from Your Child

As a parent of a sexually abused child, you will have feelings of your own about the situation. While there is no single “right” emotional reaction, many parents feel:

  • Anger – at the abuser, at the systems that allowed the abuse to happen, or even at your child for not telling you sooner
  • Anxiety – about how to move forward and what the right response might be
  • Fear – over what the abuser will do when the situation becomes public or about the lasting harm to your child
  • Guilt – that you allowed this to happen to your child or did not see the warning signs sooner
  • Sadness – for your child, your family, and yourself (especially when the abuser is a family member or romantic partner)
  • Shock or surprise – over the fact that it happened to you and your family

Your child does not need to see you wrestle with these emotions. They have a hard enough task ahead of them dealing with their own. Find a friend to share them with privately, discuss them with your sex abuse attorney, or seek professional support from a counselor or support group. Try not to air your feelings publicly or in a way that they may come back to your child (such as on social media).

There is no easy answer about what to do when a child reports sexual assault. The best advice is to be patient and supportive with your child, and to get the professional help you both need to heal and protect your rights. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have a team of attorneys who know what to do in the face of sex abuse for children and their parents. We will help you so you can help your child and get the justice and compensation you need to move on. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.