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The organization representing the woman who accused The Birth of a Nation writer and director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin of rape while all were students at Penn State University has broken its silence about the case.
“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,” read a statement from Terry Fromson and Carol E. Tracy, director of the Women’s Law Project, which in 2002 filed suit against Penn State for a Title IX violation relating to how the university handled the harassment claims the alleged victim brought against Parker and Celestin.
The statement goes on to knock the university for failing to adequately address the concerns about sexual assault on campus and the appropriate response to it in the years since Parker and Celestin were first charged in 1999.
“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,” Tracy wrote. “These objectives have not been achieved in either system.…”
Parker and Celestin’s accuser, whose name is in publicly available court documents but has not been released by her family, died by suicide in April 2012.
Parker and Celestin, who wrestled together for Penn State, were charged in 1999 with rape after the victim alleged they had sexually assaulted her at Parker’s off-campus apartment while she was unconscious. At the subsequent trial, Parker was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted. The conviction was later overturned on appeal when prosecutors declined to pursue the case, citing difficulties in gathering witnesses from around the country.
Parker and Celestin’s Birth of a Nation was purchased at Sundance for a record $17.5 million and was on track to be a major Oscar contender. The resurfacing of the 17-year-old rape case has cast a pall over the film and its creators in recent weeks.
In her statement, WLP’s Tracy made mention of the ongoing difficulty sexual assault victims face in obtaining justice.
“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,” wrote Tracy, seeming to refer to the accuser in the Parker and Celestin case, where prior sexual consent had been an issue. “The criminal justice system must free itself of pervasive bias and victim-blaming.”
In the years since Celestin was convicted, sexual assault on Penn State’s campus has remained an issue. In 2012, Joe Paterno was embroiled in a sexual assault case when one of his coaches, Jerry Sandusky, was found to have abused boys over a period of years. That year, the WLP and nine other organizations requested that the university conduct a review. Two years later, a review was in fact opened, and it remains so to this day. “We look forward to their findings and recommendations,” Tracy wrote.
The WLP also included words the victim had told them before she passed away. “If victims feel protected, more will come forward, and perpetrators will learn that their behavior will not be tolerated.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Fox Searchlight for comment.
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