'Huge win' for sex assault victims, says California victim

Years before the #MeToo movement, Yee Xiong embarked on a quest for justice after she says she was sexually assaulted at a college party.

What followed was a tumultuous legal battle that included two trials ending in hung juries, followed by her attacker taking a plea deal for felony assault, then turning around and accusing her of defamation. That lawsuit, in which he objected to Facebook posts calling him a rapist, was quickly dismissed.

But Xiong was determined to hold him accountable. She filed a civil suit against him that resulted last week with a jury finding her attacker Lang Her liable for sexual battery and awarding her $152,400.

That was the full amount of damages she sought for medical expenses and pain and suffering, her lawyer said Friday.

"This case was not about money. It was about vindication for Yee. And, she was absolutely vindicated by the jury's verdict," said Justin Giovannettone, a lawyer with Sacramento-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which took on her case for free.

Xiong said she is relieved the case is over and now has a sense of hopefulness.

"I think this is a case that is a huge win for survivors around the world," Xiong, who is now 26 and lives in Davis, California, said in a telephone interview. She hopes it sends "a very powerful and positive message to the world that people will be held accountable for their actions, no matter how long it takes."

An attorney for Her did not immediately respond to a phone message Friday seeking comment.

Xiong was a 20-year-old student at the University of California, Davis, when she went to an off-campus party on July 9, 2012, and drank too much, according to court documents. She woke up in a bed early the next morning with her arms pinned at her sides to find him having intercourse with her.

They knew each other before the party. Both were students at UC Davis and part of the tightknit Hmong community at the school. Their families also knew each other. California has the highest population of Hmong, a Southeast Asian ethnic minority, in the United States.

She reported the assault to police the next day. A rape-kit evaluation found his semen. Her, now 26, was charged with one count of rape of an intoxicated person. He testified that he believed Xiong wanted to have sex with him, and his attorneys questioned why Xiong stayed the rest of the night in the apartment if she had been raped.

The case was tried twice in 2015 and 2016, and both times a jury deadlocked.

Prosecutors were ready to try the case a third time when Her took a plea deal that included a year of jail time and five years of probation. He also had to register as a sex offender.

He is still on probation and served six months of the 1-year sentence, said Giovannettone.

Xiong thought the plea deal was the end. But on the day of Her's sentencing in July 2016, he served Xiong with a $4 million defamation suit, saying that she and her three siblings colluded to alienate him from their Hmong community by calling him a rapist on Facebook.

A court dismissed the defamation suit in October 2016, but Xiong decided to fight back with a civil suit.

"Even though he took the plea deal he was not going to accept responsibility," she said. "He was trying to use the legal system to harass me, so I wanted to fight back in the same way."

A 4-day trial in Yolo County Superior Court ended Oct. 12 with a unanimous verdict in her favor.

Xiong credits the #MeToo movement with having shined a light on how victims of sexual assault react to attacks, which she thinks may have informed the latest jury.

"In the other two trials, some of the jurors did not understand why I allowed him to drop me in my apartment (after the attack) and let him take me to campus," she said. "I think people understand now, you do what you need to, to survive."