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$15 Million Verdict Against Thomas Jefferson Univ. Signals Fall of ‘Believe Women’ Movement

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Rebecca Hain: 513-479-3335


$15 Million Verdict Against Thomas Jefferson Univ. Signals Fall of ‘Believe Women’ Movement

WASHINGTON / December 13, 2023 – On September 28, 2018, a full-page advertisement appeared in the New York Times that stated simply, “Believe women” (1). These words would be repeated countless times over the years, eviscerating the presumption of innocence and tilting the outcome of sexual assault cases against the accused. But a sexual assault allegation that recently ended with a $15 million jury verdict reveals the days of the vacuous “Believe women” phrase may be numbered.

The former Soviet Union was famous for its notorious Show Trials in which innocence or guilt was decided not by the evidence presented, but rather by whether the accused person came from a favored social group. If an investigation was conducted, it only was intended to create a façade of impartiality for the bogus trial with a predetermined outcome.

Which is exactly what happened in Thomas Jefferson University’s adjudication of medical resident Jessica Phillips’ accusation of rape against attending orthopedic surgeon John Abraham.

The saga began at an alcohol-fueled party on June 23, 2018 in Philadelphia. As the party began to wind down, Phillips forced whiskey into Abraham’s mouth and began to aggressively kiss him, according to the man. She pulled him to the floor, where they had sex. Abraham promptly reported the incident to his supervisor at the university. But inexplicably, his complaint was not forwarded to the Title IX office and never investigated (2).

In the meantime, the woman informed her husband of the incident and filed a complaint with her residency director. Four days after the sexual liaison occurred, Abraham received a Notice of Concern from Jefferson’s Title IX coordinator, alleging that he had engaged in “non-consensual sexual intercourse” with Phillips.

The university Chief Medical Officer also warned Abraham that if he did not immediately take a leave of absence, he would be suspended and reported to the Medical Staff and National Practitioner Database (3). Abraham believed he had choice but to capitulate.

All this happened before the University had completed its investigation.

On January 8, 2019, the University concluded its probe, with no finding of responsibility against the man. A police investigation of the incident likewise did not result in any charges being filed.

But the damage had been done. Abraham had been forced out of his position, his reputation destroyed, his career in tatters. The acclaimed surgeon was the latest victim of a campus Kangaroo Court.

A year later, Abraham filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University, accusing the institution of sex bias for failing to investigate his original complaint of sexual assault. At the trial, attorneys invoked the damsel-in-distress argument, claiming that Abraham “was in a powerful hierarchy position” relative to Phillips, as if a high-achieving woman in a medical residency somehow had lost her ability to utter the word, “no.”

On December 3, the jury met to decide on the case. Appalled at the university’s failure to investigate the surgeon’s complaint, the jury decided in favor of Abraham, awarding him $11 million in compensation for his financial losses, and $4 million in punitive damages for the university’s “outrageous conduct.” (4)

After five years of legal wrangling, a jury of five women and three men unanimously decided to not believe the woman. And the millions of falsely accused Americans could give a sigh of relief (5).