Marcos Bretón

Yuba County judge tosses out $4 million defamation suit against sexual assault victim

Yee Xiong, 24, in her home in Davis on July 22, 2016.
Yee Xiong, 24, in her home in Davis on July 22, 2016. rbenton@sacbee.com

A registered sex offender serving a one-year jail sentence will not get to sue his victim for $4 million. Perhaps now a woman who pursued a rape case for four years will have some peace and closure.

It took less than 30 minutes for a Yuba County judge to dismiss a defamation suit filed by Lang Her, a former UC Davis student who is being held at the Yolo County jail for assaulting Yee Xiong of Davis.

Her, 26, had named Xiong, 24, and three of her siblings in his suit because in 2015 they had posted and shared Facebook comments in which they referred to Her as a rapist.

Her stood trial twice for assaulting Xiong – once in 2015 and once in 2016. Xiong had accused Lang Her of raping her after a party at Her’s Davis apartment on July 9, 2012. Both cases ended in hung juries. The prospect of a third trial prompted Her to plead no contest to assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, a felony. He was ordered to register as a sex offender. He also will receive sex offender counseling and a probation period of five years.

On July 19, as Xiong was in the Yolo County courthouse for Her’s sentencing, one of Her’s siblings slipped the defamation suit into her hands. “I think (Her’s family) wanted to get revenge, to hurt me in some way,” Xiong said. “They just wanted to get back at me.”

That will have to be the final word on Her’s motives since neither Her nor his lawyer, David J. Collins, will answer media questions.

Her’s defamation suit underscores the indignities suffered by sexual assault victims when they file complaints and seek justice though the legal system. Advocates for sexual assault victims say many young women never pursue cases because they don’t want to be subjected to the ordeal of confronting their abusers in court.

In Xiong’s case, she had to tell her family what had happened, and she had to cope with immigrant parents horrified that she had been assaulted by a young man whose family they knew from the tight-knit Hmong community in Marysville. Xiong had to face recriminations from her parents and siblings, upset with her that she had been assaulted at a party where she drank too much alcohol, though she was only 20 at the time.

She had to endure the shame of her assault, the collection of a rape kit, questions from Davis police and strained relationships with friends who had been at the party and had left her alone with Her in his apartment. She endured two inconclusive trials, even though physical evidence showed that his semen was found in her body, and even though Her’s story changed several times. Her initially told investigators nothing happened on the night in question. He later said he and Xiong had kissed but had not had sex.

When she agreed to drop a third court case in exchange for Her’s plea deal, she thought it was the end of four years of pursuing justice. Then came Her’s defamation suit. Free-speech experts said he had little chance of prevailing because of speech protections enacted by the California Legislature.

The real threat to Xiong was financial. She would have to spend thousands of dollars to defend herself against what can be called a frivolous lawsuit given how quickly it was dismissed. But Jonathan Raven, the Yolo County prosecutor who tried the second case, asked McGregor Scott to represent Xiong pro bono.

A former U.S. attorney, Scott is now a private attorney in Sacramento. He agreed immediately, was in a Marysville courtroom Monday to get the defamation suit dismissed and likely saved Xiong from more trauma at the hands of Her.

It doesn’t erase what Xiong has suffered during this long ordeal. But hopefully Monday’s quick dismal of Her’s ridiculous suit will mark the moment Xiong can move on with her life and finally leave her abuser in the past.

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