Thirty-one years ago, Wendy Murphy graduated from New England Law School in Boston, and began working as a prosecutor viewing up close what she found as the mistreatment of women under the law as women held fewer legal protections than men.
“I saw this as a much larger issue,” says Murphy. “So I started doing more structured and more strategic litigation to advance women’s civil rights.”
This is at a time when the credibility of women and the rights of women have been in the national spotlight surrounding the Senate testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford regarding her allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Murphy has weighed in on the case.
For Murphy, hers has been a career of a fight for gender equality. In the 1990s, she launched into Title IX work, and has been a champion since. In 1992, Murphy founded the first organization in the nation to provide pro bono legal services to crime victims.In 1992, @WMurphyLaw, aka the Goddaughter of Title IX, founded the first organization in the nation to provide pro bono legal services to crime victims. #inspirationalwomen Click To Tweet
Called the “Goddaughter of Title IX” for her groundbreaking work including victories against Harvard College in 2002, Harvard Law School and Princeton University in 2010. The cases led to widespread awareness of sexual assault on campus.
Murphy used Title IX to initiate first-ever legal action at the Department of Education against Harvard after the college instituted a new policy requiring sexual assault victims to produce “sufficient independent corroboration” before a rape allegation would be accepted for resolution under the school’s disciplinary proceedings. The case forced Harvard to rescind the policy.
The cases led to the issuance of the Department of Education’s April 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter,” which provided unprecedented clarity and guidance regarding the obligation of schools to respond to reports of sexual violence on campus promptly, equitably and effectively.
“Title IX is a beautiful law that is very clear and extremely powerful, It protects against discrimination,” says Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law for the past 15 years and where she also serves as co-director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project under the Center for Law and Social Responsibility.
She was a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School in 2002 when she brought the law suit against Harvard, where she says, “women were disproportionately suffering harm with these blatant acts of discrimination.”
An impact litigator whose work in state and federal courts has changed the law to better protect the constitutional and civil rights of victimized women and children, Murphy is the author of And Justice For Some. She is a contributing editor for The Sexual Assault Report, and writes a regular column for The Patriot Ledger.
Considering the multiple sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh dating back to his high school and college years at Yale University, Murphy’s work on behalf of women and victims continues to be crucial.At a time when the Supreme Court Justice nominee #BrettKavanaugh is challenged with sexual assault allegations, @WMurphyLaw's work on behalf of women and victims continues to be crucial. Perhaps more so than ever. #BelieveWomen Click To Tweet
She wrote the winning brief in an appellate case involving rape and intoxication. A lower court had ruled the jury could not consider the victim’s intoxication on the issue of consent unless she was so drunk, she was “wholly insensible” or “utterly senseless.” Murphy argued in favor of a fairer standard that would allow a jury to decide whether the victim was simply “too intoxicated” to consent.
Murphy has filed numerous test cases, since 1992, to improve constitutional and common law privacy rights for victims of violence regarding mental and medical health records, past sexual conduct and forced physical and mental examinations. She was the first attorney to write and submit an amicus brief on the admissibility of “grooming” evidence in a child rape case to explain a pattern of offender behavior that inhibited the child’s ability to report the violence to authorities.
She planned and brought the first test case in the nation to establish that crime victims have a right to be heard in criminal proceedings and may directly address the court, with their own private attorney, to advance their rights under victims’ “Bill of Rights” laws.
Murphy filed and won a first-ever lawsuit against a criminal defense attorney for abuse of process when he unlawfully subpoenaed the records of a rape victim’s therapist.
Pending is the lawsuit she filed against Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the Department of Education in Massachusetts federal court in October 2017, alleging that new Title IX rules violated Title IX, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the United States Constitution.
Fear for many is that the proposed Title IX changes will make sexual assault on campus silenced, hidden and without repercussion for the alleged perpetrator.
According to The Atlantic, under the proposed rules if the crime is not reported to a specific person, “The university is not required to investigate. It’s not yet entirely clear which campus administrators, and possibly professors, would qualify as officials with this kind of authority—and how, or if, the university would convey that information to students. If the alleged victim reports the incident to the residential advisor in their dormitory, a peer sexual-assault advocate, or another school employee who is not a designated ‘official,’ the university bears no responsibility for the complaint.”
As the hashtags #BelieveHer and #WhyIDidntReport become shared more widely, Quartz reports that this time of year has the most sexual assaults on a campus.As the hashtags #BelieveHer and #WhyIDidntReport become shared more widely, @quartzatwork reports that this time of year has the most sexual assaults on a campus. Click To Tweet
“The first six weeks of the college year have come to be known as the ‘red zone.’This is the time when, statistically speaking, the highest number of sexual assaults on campus happen, an estimated 50% of total assaults that will occur that year. Some studies say the red zone lasts the entire semester, others report that assaults spike in the days before classes begin.”
The climate on campus and in the culture for discrimination against women including sexual assault and domestic violence keep Murphy vigilant.
“I’ve been doing this work for 30 years,” Murphy says, “and from my personal experience, things have gotten worse for women. Some things are better in terms of education, and we do see more women in places of power, whether on boards, as CEO or in Congress.”
Murphy adds, “The measure of whether women enjoy equality is how much suffering they are doing as female.”
A proponent of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, Murphy says, “What I say about the ERA is we have to stop pushing crumbs around on a half-empty plate. This is silliness. Equality first, everything else is second.”