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University of Cincinnati Law Review

Abstract

This article focuses attention on state civil rights remedies that provide a civil cause of action against those who commit acts of gender-based violence and frame the harm as a violation of the survivor’s civil rights. Though many of these laws long have been on the books, they are not widely used. The #MeToo movement has rightly focused public attention on the ways gender violence persists and on the gaps in legal remedies for survivors. While law and policy-makers work to enact new laws to fill gaps, existing laws should be invoked to promote accountability and provide redress for survivors. State and local civil rights remedies do just that.

In 1994, after four years of hearings, Congress enacted a civil rights remedy as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (“VAWA Civil Rights Remedy”), which provided a private right of action against an individual who commits an act of gender violence. The law was modeled after other federal civil rights legislation and authorized a survivor of gender-motivated violence to bring a civil cause of action against the individual who committed the harm. The Supreme Court, in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000), struck down the federal law as an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers and of Congress’ enforcement powers under the Fourteenth Amendment. While the law provided redress for survivors during the six years it was in effect, both preexisting and later-enacted state and local remedies also provide a private right of action for gender violence as a civil rights violation. This article reviews those state and local statutes and the associated case law interpreting them. It demonstrates that those state and local laws can be more widely used by individuals who seek to hold those who commit acts of gender violence accountable.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, when high-profile and high-net-worth individuals are being held to account, and when reports of sexual violence that occurs outside traditional employment settings are capturing public attention, those laws may be of increased utility. Employment trends leaving fewer workers employed in settings covered by traditional federal and state anti-discrimination laws expose the gaps in existing civil rights frameworks and render additional remedies all the more important. The state laws reviewed here have not been the focus of much advocacy, scholarship, or litigation. This article advances an additional and under-utilized theory of recovery for gender violence survivors that promotes the principles of equality and liberty for which civil rights long has stood.

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