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Former UAA professor accused of sexual misconduct objects to pseudonyms in lawsuit

A retired University of Alaska Anchorage professor accused of decades of sexual misconduct is contesting the use of pseudonyms by multiple women who are suing him - a move plaintiffs say is nothing more than intimidation.

Former UAA professor David Yesner (Photo provided by UAA)

A retired University of Alaska Anchorage anthropology professor accused of decades of sexual misconduct is contesting the use of pseudonyms by multiple women who are suing him - a move plaintiffs say is nothing more than intimidation.

David Yesner, who is named in the federal lawsuit along with the University of Alaska System and the University of Alaska Board of Regents, is the latest to protest the use of pseudonyms.

Victims' rights advocates say the use of pseudonyms to protect the identity of accusers in sexual misconduct cases has been done for at least two decades. Harassment is often the motive for defendants facing sexual misconduct and assault allegations, said Camille Cooper, vice president of public policy at the nonprofit RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

"These women are coming forward with issues and experiences that are deeply personal. They're intimate," Cooper said. "They're not something you want to see your name associated with in a newspaper. And the defendant would know that."

Alaska state law prohibits the use of sexual assault victims' names in court documents, she said.

In a similar case, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, had contested their use by some plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by former psychology department professors. Before the pseudonym issue was resolved, the case reached an out-of-court settlement last week.

More than 600 people, including Democratic presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, called on Dartmouth to end its opposition the use of pseudonyms before the lawsuit was settled.

Attorneys for the Alaska plaintiffs say the resolution of the Dartmouth case gives credence to their clients and any others who have been wronged.

"These students expect to go to class and expect to get an education without being sexually harassed by a professor," plaintiffs' attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey said Friday.

The lawsuit against Yesner was filed in May, following an investigative Title IX report that found accusations by nine women credible.

The women say they were subjected to sexual harassment, discrimination, exploitation, abuse and retaliation that hurt their academic careers and emotional well-being, while Yesner was promoted despite known instances of sexual misconduct. They say the university failed to follow Title IX requirements following numerous complaints from the women.

The lawsuit originally listed five plaintiffs as Jane Does, along with potential unknown victims listed as Jane Does 6-to-20 as placeholders. In late July, two additional alleged victims were added, bringing the total to seven plaintiffs. They include an Oregon woman who says she was using a public shower when the professor entered fully naked and accosted her.

The woman identified as Jane Doe 6 said Yesner retaliated against her after she rejected his advances. Attempts to reach Yesner for comment were not immediately successful. His attorneys declined to comment, a man answering their law firm said.

An attorney representing the university and regents did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier this year, the University of Alaska Anchorage alerted students that Yesner was banned from all properties and events and they should call university police if they see him.

In recent motions, Yesner says restricting the use of women's names would "make it difficult for the defense to speak with anyone about the plaintiffs." He says the some already identified themselves in reports and comments.

"Anonymity is not necessary to preserve privacy and the allegations do not involve matters of a sensitive or highly personal nature," a June 26 motion states.

The women disagreed, urging the court to continue to allow the women to protect their true identities. Neither the university nor regents have contested the use of pseudonyms.

"This motion by Yesner is nothing more than an intimidation and delay tactic to further humiliate, embarrass and traumatize," the women said in court documents.

The women were or currently are in counseling over their experiences, according to Brandfield-Harvey. Protecting their identities is crucial to protect them from the fallout of exposure, she said.

"There could be often some social stigmatization that's very prevalent with these types of cases, she said.

The women are seeking a jury trial and reimbursement for tuition and other expenses. The lawsuit also seeks the removal of Yesner’s name from diplomas and other university documents.


Associated Press reporter Michael Casey in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.