Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP | 20th Anniversary 2004 - 2024
Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP | 20th Anniversary 2004 - 2024

Partner Reflection: Christine Dunn

By Christine Dunn, Washington, DC and Baltimore Partner, Sanford Heisler Sharp | March 2024

A hallmark of my practice group is that we aren’t afraid to take on powerful individuals and the powerful institutions that didn’t do enough to protect our clients – Christine Dunn

I first joined Sanford Heisler Sharp in 2008 – just four years after its creation. At that time, the firm was much smaller – we had only a small New York office and a small DC office, with a handful of attorneys in each. We were far from having multiple offices across the country and the over 100 employees we have today. While the firm looked very different back then, the thing that impressed me most was the unwavering commitment that every single attorney and staff member had toward civil rights and social justice cases. As clichéd as it may sound, I am someone who went to law school because I wanted to help people. At Sanford Heisler Sharp, I felt like I had found a home with like-minded people who wanted to make the world better for our clients and to make a difference.

I joined Sanford Heisler Sharp after many years as a federal civil rights prosecutor, where I often prosecuted police misconduct cases involving sexual assault. In 2018, when the firm started a practice group centered around representing victims of crime, especially sexual assault survivors, in their civil lawsuits, it seemed like a natural fit that I would help lead and develop the practice group. Today, the practice group – known as the Sexual Violence, Title IX and Victims’ Rights Practice Group – has grown to a robust practice, handling important cases around the country and helping countless survivors of crime. The majority of the cases we handle involve representing clients who were sexually abused or assaulted against the individual perpetrator and, often, against the institution that allowed the victimization to occur. We have brought claims against schools when students were sexually assaulted by teachers or other students. We have brought claims against churches when children were sexually abused by clergy members. We have brought claims against medical facilities when doctors have sexually abused patients. We have brought claims against property management companies when tenants have been assaulted in their buildings. And we have brought claims against employers when employees have been sexually assaulted by co-workers or supervisors.

Victims of crime, especially sexual assault, often tell me that one of the worst parts about what they endured is feeling like their power has been taken away. I take very seriously my role of helping survivors get their power back and obtain justice. A hallmark of my practice group is that we aren’t afraid to take on powerful individuals and the powerful institutions that didn’t do enough to protect our clients. I firmly believe that one of the best ways to make our society safer is to hold institutions, like schools, companies or churches, accountable when they fail to institute adequate safeguards. The law is a powerful vehicle for creating systemic change.

I have seen firsthand the difference that an individual case can make in creating change and making things safer for those who come after. In 2022, I began representing a female student at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy who was raped by her supervisor while she was working aboard a commercial ship as part of her “Sea Year” requirements for graduation. Months before I met her, she posted an anonymous blog on the Internet under the pseudonym Midshipman-X, detailing her harrowing experience of being raped by her boss while trapped aboard a ship in the middle of the ocean. To her surprise, the blog went viral and caused an immense uproar in the maritime community. It’s no secret that sexual assault has always been a widespread problem in the maritime industry, but Midshipman-X was one of the first to come forward and talk so publicly about it. As a result of her blog post and the publicity stemming from the lawsuit I later filed on her behalf, Congress began inquiries, shining a light on the high risk of sexual assault aboard ships. Ultimately, in December 2022, Congress passed portions of the Safer Seas Act, instituting numerous safety measures designed to make ships safer from sexual assault. In this situation, one client’s bravery sparked a movement that has led to real change that will help to keep future generations of mariners safer.

My clients routinely tell me that they want to go forward with a lawsuit because they don’t want anyone else to be harmed the way they were. Having the courage to speak out against powerful individuals and institutions is difficult. Every day, I am amazed by the strength of my clients as they come forward and work to obtain justice for themselves and for others. I am honored to work at a firm that is committed to standing with survivors and fighting to make our society safer.

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