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LAUSD Can't Blame Student For Being Sexually Assaulted By Teacher, Judge Says
A judge has ruled that the L.A. Unified School District can no longer argue that a student was partially to blame for her own sexual assault by her teacher. On Wednesday, the state Court of Appeal reversed a lower court's ruling, which had allowed attorneys in the case to include the 14-year-old girl's sexual history or information that suggests was somewhat responsible for having a sexual relationship with her 28-year-old teacher, reports the L.A. Times. The case involves a former student at Edison Middle School who was coerced into sex both on and off campus by her teacher, Elkis Hermida, 28, over a period of seven months between 2010 and 2011. Hermida was convicted of lewd acts with a minor in July of 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison. But in 2013, a jury rejected the girls claim that LAUSD was negligent and therefor liable for her emotional damage, which prompted the appeal.
During the appeal, the girl's attorneys argued that Judge Lawrence Cho should not have allowed evidence about her prior sexual history or that she was partially at fault for her sexual abuse suggested by attorneys for LAUSD. The state agreed, reversed Cho's decision and has ordered a new trial.
"On appeal, the District continues to maintain that a minor student who is the victim of sexual abuse by a teacher bears responsibility for preventing that abuse. The District was wrong in the trial court and is wrong now," Judge Richard H. Kirschner wrote in his decision. "There is no case or statutory authority or persuasive reasoning supporting the notion that students sexually victimized by their teachers can be contributorily responsible for the harm they suffer."
L.A. Unified's attorneys had previously said the girl was partly to blame because she had lied to her parents and teachers to conceal the sexual relationship with Hermida and "therefore thwarted the District's ability to find out about it and stop it." They also argued that it was appropriate to include her sexual history in order to evaluate her level of emotional distress. During the appeal, the district argued that the jury didn't consider the issue or responsibility or sexual history in the case, and instead it based the verdict was not negligent because they did not know or have reason to suspect Hermida.
However, the appellate court said that the girl's alleged consent and sexual history were repeatedly brought up throughout the trail and "wrongly portrayed her in a negative light and was highly prejudicial."
According to the girl's Los Angeles attorney, Frank Perez, she is elated with the reversed ruling. "We are all super grateful," Perez said to the Times. "Our client needed to be vindicated and needed to hear it is not her fault. The jury, due to what we now know were the [trial court's] wrong rulings, affirmed the shaming and blaming of a child victim."
Shannon Haber, L.A. Unified spokeswoman, said the district is reviewing the decision and had no further comment.
Back in July, Governor Brown signed into law SB 14, which prevents defendants accused of sexually abusing minors in civil suits from arguing that the sex was consensual. The bill arose following the L.A. Unified case.