William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


One in four female undergraduate students has been sexually assaulted. These students are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than any other group. Frustrated with the Title IX process on their campuses and the lack of discipline for their assailants, these students are unlikely to report their assault. Instead, they quietly tell their friends and other students, and in some cases, anonymously share their stories online. But instead of receiving support, these survivors are often faced with lawsuits. Accused assailants are using, or threatening to use, defamation lawsuits in an attempt to silence survivors who speak out, even when they do so anonymously. These defamation suits have high costs, both financial and emotional, that many survivors cannot bear; many survivors will stop speaking out about their experiences as a result. However, § 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the public controversy doctrine limit defamation liability for sexual assault allegations made online that could shield survivors brave enough to come forward.