A woman who says she was raped at age 15 by Gordon Sumner, better known as the rocker Sting, after a 1979 concert in Tempe is suing the singer in a federal court in Phoenix for sexual assault, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix states Sumner “began grooming” the teen 41 years ago during a fan meet-and-greet event at a record store while the band was on tour. Video footage taken by band member Stewart Copeland reportedly shows the girl at the event.
Later, the girl went to a club in Tempe with a friend and her parents where she purportedly interacted with Sumner again before the band performed. The lawsuit states she left the club with Sumner to attend a house party in Phoenix in a vehicle driven by band member Andy Summers.
After the party, the teen was driven to a hotel across the street from the club. It was in Sumner’s hotel room that the rape occurred after Stewart Copeland filmed the girl in the room, the lawsuit states.
Afterward, Sumner “led Plaintiff out of the hotel room and sent her home in a taxi,” the lawsuit states. It also suggests Sumner wrote the lyrics for Don’t Stand So Close To Me “shortly after the incident” and includes a quote from the singer-songwriter that the band’s young female fans were an inspiration for the song.
In a statement posted to the law firm’s website, the woman says she is sharing what happened “to expose and stop my abuser and other abusers from doing this to anyone else” although nothing in the lawsuit indicates Sumner has been accused of similar conduct over the last four decades.
“I was sexually assaulted by Gordon Sumner on May 14, 1979 when I was just 15 years old,” the statement reads. “Because of this, I have suffered lifelong emotional, mental, and psychological damage. I have decided to file this case under the pseudonym Jane Doe because I do not wish to draw attention to myself and I believe this lawsuit is bigger than me.”
Other defendants named in the lawsuit are the band The Police and its then-talent agency Frontier Booking International which arranged the concert tour that brought the band to Arizona.
The lawsuit also contends the teen told her closest friends about the incident within a year, and later told several family members. However, there is no mention in the lawsuit nor the woman’s statement of whether a police report was ever filed or if she intends to do that now.
“I hope that getting justice and closure for my rape may help in my healing,” the statement ends. “Obviously, I will never get those years back, but I hope to feel some relief having finally broken my silence. The feeling of violation and loss of innocence is with me constantly and I have to actively seek creative ways of coping every day. The years and monetary expenses I have committed to maintaining my therapy are staggering.”
In addition to monetary damages for things like pain and suffering as well as past, present, and future medical care and treatment, the lawsuit seeks punitive damages “to be set by a jury in an amount sufficient to punish Defendant for his outrageous conduct and to make an example of him so that others do not engage in similar conduct in the future.”
Defending the case -both in the courtroom and in the arena of public opinion- will not be easy, according to one Arizona attorney who has worked as a criminal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and civil litigator.
“If it were a criminal charge, the prosecution would have to prove each and every element of each and every charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” explained Roger Contreras, a Sierra Vista-based attorney not involved with either party. “But the plaintiff in this federal civil suit will only be required to prove the events alleged by a preponderance of the evidence – that the claim or fact is more probably true than not true.”
One difficulty in mounting a defense in such a case, Contreras says, is the fact the defendants have met millions of fans in thousands of venues since the night in question 41 years ago. And then there’s the problem of trying to prove a negative.
“The defense will always have a difficult time proving the non-occurrence of an alleged event, even if it’s something which purportedly happened recently,” he explained. “And in a case like this it is nearly impossible to prove the non-occurrence of an alleged event where decades have passed and memories have faded and evidence has ceased to exist for innumerable reasons.”
Once Sumner and the other defendants are served with the civil complaint they will have to file a formal answer with the court. Due to COVID-19 delays any trial, assuming the case is not dismissed first, would likely not occur until early 2022.