Defense attorneys for a Harvard law student accused of sexually assaulting a classmate have launched a website to refute the way he was portrayed in a recent documentary film.
The website created by Brandon Winston’s legal team is filled with court documents, testimonials, and family photos that they say prove his innocence. Last month, more than a dozen Harvard law school professors issued an open letter criticizing “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault, for its portrayal of his case. The filmmakers then addressed their claims with a point-by-point rebuttal.
In the film, Kamilah Willingham, a graduate of Harvard Law School, said she and a friend were sexually assaulted by a classmate, who was later revealed to be Winston.
Although he is not named in the documentary, Willingham says the law school initially found her alleged assailant guilty and expelled him. After an appeal, she said professors allowed him to return to school.
But Winston’s legal team argues that the film’s portrayal is unfair because he was never indicted on charges related to Willingham, and was exonerated on most charges related to her friend.
The documentary was released last spring, but Winston’s attorney, Norman Zalkind, said the team launched the website now because CNN aired the film late last month.
“We had no idea how much CNN was going to push it, so we felt like we should put something out there,” he said.
Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering said the documentary’s presentation of Willingham’s assault is completely accurate.
The website, “The Brandon Project: The Facts Matter,” features photos from Winston’s childhood and an image of the rubble from the Twin Towers, where it says his dad spent months working as a New York City firefighter. The website was produced by Resilience Communications, a company that bills itself as having “extensive experience managing crises.”
In an interview with The Harvard Crimson , Willingham argued that the documentary accurately represents her case and said the site from Winston’s legal team struck her as “absurd.”
The government found Harvard Law School in violation of Title IX gender equity law last December, which the film’s directors say is proof that the college was negligent in its handling of Willingham’s case.
“Aside from protecting their own reputations, it’s unclear why these Harvard Law professors are going to such great lengths to defend an adjudication process that was ultimately found in violation of federal guidelines,” the filmmakers told Boston.com. “The fact is that these are the very same professors who, in clear violation of Title IX, participated in this flawed and secretive process that overturned the findings of the Independent Fact Finder and the Administrative Board, which both found Winston responsible for sexual assault.”
Janet Halley, a Harvard Law School professor, said the director’s refutations are a smoke screen that fail to answer the facts about the case. She said Willingham’s testimony proves there wasn’t enough evidence to find Winston guilty.
“My personal hope is that the website will be a readily accessible way for people to take a look at what happened in the trial,” she said. “This is a special case in which every final decision maker determined that the evidence was not there for sexual assault.”
The filmmakers expressed concern that the detailed website will discourage survivors from reporting their own instances of sexual assault.
“The actions of these professors will certainly have a chilling effect on survivors at Harvard Law and discourage many from reporting,” the directors said in a statement, “which will only contribute further to the significant problem of sexual assault at Harvard and Harvard Law.”