I started jury duty at 8:30 am yesterday. I sat around all morning, reading, napping, staring into space, watching the TV monitors that three hours prior stopped playing the informational video we had to watch…
Around 2:30 pm they started calling more names, and I was one of them! After about fifty people made it from the second floor to the twentieth floor via packed elevators about four bodies at a time and we waited some more, we were brought into a courtroom and listened to information about the law and the specific case. Then the judge asked if anyone had any emergencies that made them unable to serve on the case, and more than half of the people went up one at a time to plead their way out of serving as a juror. This took another hour.
18 people were called into the jury box to answer questions. I was not one of them. While listening to their voir dire, I became aware that one of the questions everyone had to answer was, “Have you or a member of your family ever been the victim of a crime?”
A few people said yes. If yes, who was it, when was it, what was it, and was anyone arrested? A woman shared about her husband being shot in the back and having been paralyzed for the rest of his life as a result. There was little reaction from the room. One woman shared of her daughter’s attempted rape, and people gasped in upset. One woman shared of her sister’s rape and the lack of arrest in the case, and people shook their heads angrily.
We were released for the evening in the middle of the first group’s voir dire. I had 17 hours to contemplate what I would need to say if I did indeed get questioned. I thought about omitting my reality, but I took an oath to tell the truth and don’t want to lie anyway. I thought about who I would look at when I said it or where I could look to not look at anyone. I tried not to think about the phrasing.
I also realized that I would finally get to say it in a courtroom, something I had asked the universe for, but it wasn’t meant to be like this. I considered how if I believed there was a higher power, it responds to prayer in the fashion of a cunning genie, granting wishes in misleading ways.
Today they finished questioning the first group of 18. They selected a number of jurors from that pool to serve, and called up a second group of 18. I was the second person called. That meant I would be the second of the day to share a synopsis of myself.
The moment came quickly and so did the anxiety. They put us in rolling chairs and I was rocking side to side inadvertently. My heart was racing and I felt the blood rushing to my face. The woman beside me had been mugged twenty years ago. Now it’s my turn.
I gave my name, my age, my profession. Once I did I felt the silent kinship between myself and the court reporter who in less than a minute would write down on the official transcript that I, Ashley Zaccaro, was raped. I spoke loudly, clearly, and slowly because I know what it’s like to take down the testimony of witnesses who don’t. And the moment came. I said I was the victim of a crime, six years ago, I was raped, and no one was arrested. The stenographer’s face was the one I caught, and it was acutely horrified. A few seconds later the man to my right began his questionnaire, followed by fifteen others.
The attorneys asked us all some questions, some of them inquiring if as jurors we would be able to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt if the only evidence came in the form of witness testimony, meaning there would be no tangible evidence, no DNA or surveillance video. A number of people expressed that they would have trouble with this concept, despite the judge affirming that the law does allow for the burden of proof to be met with mere testimony.
Ultimately I was not selected as a juror, and those of us who weren’t were dismissed from jury service.
I was walking out, and a man who was in my group came up to me. “I just wanted to say, I talked about how I wouldn’t have found the defendant guilty only based on testimony, but I wanted to let you know I would’ve believed you.” I was so taken aback and confused, and my face expressed that. “Oh. I’m sorry. This is awkward. Someone had said they were raped –”
I cut him off, “Yeah. That was me.”
“Oh. I wanted you to know that I would’ve believed you.”
I babbled for a second. I never expected my voir dire to result in any form of support. This was a strictly professional environment, and I wasn’t in any particular need of an ally. I thanked him twice and tried to express the full extent of my gratitude but the moment passed so swiftly that I don’t feel I sufficiently did. I hope he realized just how much this acknowledgement did. It meant the world to me.
The little things like this matter. I am used to hearing things around me that I apply to my reality and no one else thinks twice about. I am used to feeling alone in it. I have come to expect it, and even accept it as much as a person who still strives to spread awareness can. But this man shattered my usually correct expectations. He crossed the barrier. He went out of his way, ignored discomfort, to give me, a stranger to him, a word of support. It was a small act. It took only minutes. But I will hold this moment in my heart every time I feel the isolation of being surrounded by people who don’t empathize with living in this world as a victim of rape. I don’t know this man’s name, but he has done so much for me, and the best way I can properly thank him now is to honor what he did.