Women’s Law Project, which represented the woman who accused “Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker of rape while they were both students at Penn State, issued a statement on the controversy on Monday.
“In 2002, the Women’s Law Project represented a young woman in a complaint charging Penn State University with violating Title IX by failing to properly respond to the harassment to which she was subjected after she filed complaints to the police and the school alleging she was raped by PSU wrestlers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin,” reads the statement from Carol E. Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, on the organization’s blog. “As is now known, she tragically died in 2012. We chose to refrain from participating in the public dissection of the case out of respect for the privacy of our client who, throughout our representation, requested anonymity.”
“However, as advocates of improving responses of both the criminal justice and campus systems to sexual assault, we come forward to address our client’s objectives,” the statement goes on. “Our client took the actions she did with the goal of protecting other women from sexual assault and harassment, and to do what she could to ensure justice for rape survivors.”
The allegations the woman made against Parker and Celestin resurfaced in the past couple of weeks. The accuser’s brother revealed to Variety that his sister died by suicide in April 2012, and Parker responded with a Facebook post that said he was “filled with profound sorrow” over the news.
Tracy took aim at sexual assault laws at large, but also at Penn State for failing to properly address the situation after the woman first reported the allegations against Parker and Celestin in 1999. In court documents, the woman reported suffering harassment at the hands of the two men after the alleged rape, and later dropped out of the university.
“Our college campuses, appropriately reminded of their obligations under Title IX by the Office for Civil Rights in 2011, need to comply in both word and practice with the law and strive to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment so students—all students–can fully benefit from their education,” reads the statement.
Parker was acquitted of the charges in a 2001 trial. Celestin, his co-writer on “Birth of a Nation” and college roommate at the time, was found guilty, but successfully appealed four years later. The men have been pushed back into the spotlight after “Birth of a Nation,” about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, debuted at Sundance to critical acclaim and was picked up by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million.
“Our sex crime laws need to be updated and stripped of archaic notions about sexual assault such as those that impose, by word or practice, perpetual consent based on previous sexual relationships,” Tracy said. “The criminal justice system must free itself of pervasive bias and victim-blaming.”
Tracy ends the statement with a quote from Parker’s accuser from 2004: “A victim should not have to worry about harassment, safety, classes, and finances after she has experienced and reported a heinous crime. If victims feel protected, more will come forward, and perpetrators will learn that their behavior will not be tolerated.”
Read the full statement here.