Steven Tyler’s Teen Assault Defense Is ‘F-cking Insane,’ Legal Experts Say

Steven Tyler’s Teen Assault Defense Is ‘F-cking Insane,’ Legal Experts Say

Three months after first being accused of sexual assault of a minor in a lawsuit last December, Steven Tyler finally responded to the claims last week, denying all the allegations and requesting for the case to be dismissed. 

As Rolling Stone first reported in December, Misley alleged in her suit that Tyler sexually assaulted and battered her in the 1970s starting when she was 16. She claimed Tyler convinced her mother to grant him guardianship over her and that they were together for about three years. She referenced Tyler’s own 2011 memoir in which he wrote that he “almost took a teen bride” and that the girl’s parents “signed a paper over for me to have custody, so I wouldn’t get arrested if I took her out of state.” Tyler also wrote that “she was sixteen, she knew how to nasty, and there wasn’t a hair on it.”

The suit further alleges that Tyler convinced Misley to get an abortion when she was 17, after she was hospitalized following an apartment fire. Writing about the experience decades later opened her up to “involuntary infamy,” Misley alleged. 

The Aerosmith singer responded last week with two dozen affirmative defenses, from denying that plaintiff Julia Misley suffered any damages, to alleging that Misley “failed to mitigate” any alleged damages herself prior to filing suit. He didn’t deny that he’d had sex with Misley, and most notably, Tyler alleged in his response that Misley — who was 16 while he was 25 at the time of the allegations — consented to the sexual relationship, and that her claims were barred “because of immunity to Defendant as caretaker/guardian.”

Those latter claims are drawing scrutiny and have perplexed several attorneys who reviewed Tyler’s answer to the suit and spoke with Rolling Stone.

“I got [to the immunity response] and I thought, ‘This is fucking insane,’” says Susan Crumiller, who frequently litigates sexual misconduct claims as the founding attorney of Crumiller PC. “There is no such thing as immunity to a caregiver or guardian for sex abuse. I don’t have the words to describe how crazy it is.”

Whether or not Tyler and his team intended for the immunity claim to specifically insinuate that his position as a defendant protects him from sexual misconduct isn’t clear. (An attorney for Tyler did not respond to requests for comment.) Dave Ring, a Los Angeles attorney who often represents children and adults in sexual misconduct cases, noted that the immunity claim itself is baffling, but he notes that a defendant giving wide-ranging defensive responses is common at the beginning of a civil suit — particularly when they are establishing their case.

Crumiller similarly acknowledges this, but she describes Tyler’s response as “particularly egregious” given the way the answers could be interpreted. “It’s very sloppy and lazy to just set out this laundry list of boilerplate defenses, so many of which very clearly do not apply,” she says. “I think if the plaintiff wanted to file a motion to dismiss these defenses, they would win.”

“The original complaint includes three claims; sexual battery, assault and emotional distress,” Crumiller continues. “You don’t have to tie which facts correspond to which claims very cleanly — you could argue immunity could apply to intentional emotional distress — but even with that claim there’s no immunity. There’s no legal basis, I’m baffled.”

Katherine Atkinson, an attorney who specializes in discrimination and sexual misconduct, also says she was “mystified” by Tyler’s response. She cited California’s Civil Code, which specifically states that consent cannot be a defense in a civil action if the person who committed the alleged sexual battery is “an adult who is in a position of authority over the minor.” The code lists caretakers among those with authority over minors. 

“I would describe the response as irregular particularly in California, where [the] law explicitly provides the opposite claim. Why would you ever say that being a guardian is a defense when you have this unique law that says you’re a position of authority which blocks consent? If anything, I’d be arguing the opposite, that even though she was a minor, he was in no position of authority so she could consent. I don’t know why they’re arguing this.”

The immunity claim understandably draws the most attention, but in some ways, it detracts from the more core issue Tyler argues about regarding consent. That claim is a bit murkier with room for interpretation, but it’s still unstable, Ring says. States have different ages for what constitutes the age of consent, but Oregon (where Misley lived when she met Tyler) and California (where she filed the suit) both establish the age of consent as 18. And as Ring notes, taking Misley across state lines turns this into a federal question, and the federal age of consent is also 18. Even if they engaged in sexual acts in a state where that was legal, that complicates any claim he’d have to say it was consensual, he says.  

“If he truly admitted in the book that he knew she was 16 and intentionally took her to a state where the law was 16, he’s still in deep trouble,” Ring says. “That’s basically trafficking a minor across state lines to have sex with her. There’s a little gray area, but bottom line, he’s going to have a difficult time arguing this is consensual if anything in a place where the age of consent is 18.”

Misley’s attorneys issued a scathing criticism to Tyler’s claims last week, calling the response “gaslighting.” “Never have we encountered a legal defense as obnoxious and potentially dangerous as the one that Tyler and his lawyers launched this week,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in a statement.

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While Tyler said in his response that Misley’s claims were past the statue of limitations, she was allowed to file the suit as part of California’s Child Victims Act, which passed in 2019 and gave alleged survivors a three-year lookback window to file civil suits regardless of the statue of limitations. Atkinson herself lauded the legislation and said she hopes more states follow suit with similar rulings of their own.

“I think it’s doing an extraordinary job at discouraging bad behavior,” she says. “I think that a lot of folks got away with —or thought they had gotten away with — bad behavior. What we’re seeing now, It’s the kind of thing that I didn’t expect to see in my lifetime. I grew up with all of these folks. We thought of it for years as ‘this is what you get to do when you’re a rock star; this is one of the perks, you get young girls following you around.’ It’s extraordinary how far we have come.”

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