Justice

On November 4, 2016, I finally understood, for real this time, that I had been raped, for real, not by accident, not by miscommunication, raped, by a rapist, back in 2011. A few weeks prior to November 4, 2016, I had just turned 22 years old. I had spent the last five and a half years suffering, confused, trying to heal wounds caused by something I could not admit to myself was even really that bad, hating myself for overreacting, feeling ashamed to still think about it – wishing I could forget, and continuing to be friends with my rapist. Those five and a half years were a journey, largely shrouded in the isolation, shame, and secrecy that he had curated for me many years ago. My understanding of what happened was built within fabrications my rapist had invented to control me and protect himself, but I fought to find reality. For years I tried to make his nonsense make sense. I wrote things down. I asked questions. I once made a list where I categorized the things that I always believed were true, sometimes believed were true, and never believed were true. On November 4, 2016, I found reality. My rapist’s lies came crumbling down. The memories I had been trying to fit into the parameters he had established and reinforced were suddenly free of his assertions, and they spilled out into a gigantic mess that somehow made more sense than they ever had before. I was raped. My friend is a rapist. Nothing makes sense. And everything makes sense.

On November 5, 2016, I called the police and began the process of reporting him. On November 30, 2016, the prosecutor let me know that although they believed me, they did not feel they could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, so they would not try, and the potential of criminal justice was gone. On approximately January 13, 2017, I reached out to a civil attorney, which began the seven month long process of hiring a lawyer – a process that was at least in part avoidably difficult. 

On August 8, 2017, nine months after I reported my rape to the police, I saw the police report for the first time and was devastated, to put it lightly, to find 37 errors in the 11 page document – to be fair, some of those errors could be reasonably attributed as understandable mistakes. But enough of them were significant and egregious. I don’t know how to capture the police report and its impact on me in a concise way. I think I’ll plan to write a separate post just about that, because I think I’m finally ready to, but for now I’ll leave it at this: the police report has helped my rapist because the police officer who wrote it lied.

* * *

On October 19, 2017, my lawsuit was officially filed. On February 20, 2018, I received the first ever piece of communication from my rapist’s attorney – a four page letter threatening to make me pay his attorney’s fees if I don’t withdraw the case because my lawsuit was frivolous and it and my blog “serve no purpose other than to harass and/or defame” Avery. (Keep especially in mind that at that point, I had protected his identity online.) Reading this made me terrified, angry, triggered, and suicidal.

On June 22, 2018, my lawsuit was dismissed because of the statute of limitations, which the judge determined was two years from the day I turned 18 – October 12, 2014. Essentially the only fact that had been discussed in the legal world at that point was about how old Avery was when he raped me and how that impacted the statute of limitations. And that June, the judge dismissed my case against him. On July 30, 2018, I stopped protecting Avery’s identity and publicly named him as my rapist.

I appealed the dismissal of my case. The appellate process took over 18 months and mostly consisted of waiting around to hear what those judges were going to decide. 

On February 24, 2020, the Appellate Division ruled that the judge in the trial court should have held a hearing on when I had understood that I was raped, because the statute of limitations would expire two years from that date. So the case was alive once again, and despite my rapist’s best efforts, the lawsuit was going forward, and he finally had to file an “answer” to my complaint against him.

* * *

On August 17, 2020, nearly two years after I had named Avery publicly, he filed that answer because he had to, along with a counterclaim for defamation, as in, now that he couldn’t avoid the case moving toward trial, he decided to sue me back. His legal strategy was frequently to try to intimidate me into dropping the lawsuit. I thought I was used to it by then, but we had just entered the discovery phase – the part of a lawsuit where evidence is gathered – and my rapist and his legal team were ready to attack.

Their very first discovery requests came on August 24, 2020, and one of those requests was a 60 page document with 80 questions called interrogatories that I had to answer. Some of those questions had over 11 sub-questions. Many of the interrogatories were extremely intrusive and unrelated to Avery raping me. I was required to outline my entire dating, romantic, and sexual history since I was 14 and descriptions of any physical touching that occurred between me and another person and why it ended; I had to provide my entire birth control history, whether my potential sex partners used condoms and when; they wanted to know in detail every single time Avery and I ever hung out, who was there, who planned it, what we did, how long we did it, any evidence of such hangouts, the circumstances that caused such a hangout – reminder that Avery was one of my best friends for several years in high school; I had to “explain in full and complete detail why you allowed yourself to be alone with ARP after the first alleged incident”; full and complete detail why we remained friends; my entire medical history including but not limited to primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, specialists (i.e. orthopedists, surgeons, gynecologists, allergists, etc.), psychologists, psychiatrists, mental and/or emotional health counselors or therapists, and physical therapists since I was 14 and every conceivable detail about the nature of my treatment with each of them; every article, book, manual, tv show, documentary, or other piece of literature or media I have ever read, seen, or heard that refers, relates, and/or pertains, directly or indirectly, to sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, and/or victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or rape, and when I consumed that media; “describe in full and complete detail any and all actions taken by you to mitigate the damages” of the rape; and many more. Keep in mind that this personal information would go directly into the hands of my rapist, and the court allowed it. And this was just the beginning.

Somehow, everything I’ve ever done was considered legally relevant to the case, but almost nothing that my rapist did was. So he got all of my private journals, my medical records, my educational records, my W-2s, my entire therapy file – notes from each individual session whether relevant to him or not (because they aggressively refused to accept my therapist’s summary of my treatment as it pertains to the rape and demanded the entire file. In addition, Avery refused to allow it to be attorney’s eyes only. All of this rendered therapy no longer accessible to me, when I needed it the most), my complete Facebook data from that time period, every single text message for years that I exchanged with a male friend who I never had any kind of romantic relationship with, and more, and more, and more. And while they were making these ridiculous, vague, intrusive, irrelevant, enormous requests, they continuously filed motion after motion accusing me and my lawyer of not complying with their requests and tried to use that to get the lawsuit dismissed, because any imperfection of mine was a possible chance for Avery to exploit to get out of having to actually litigate any facts related to him raping me. I’m paraphrasing this, but at one point his legal team essentially tried to say that I should be punished for making it hard for them to sort through all the insane amounts of discovery, as if they were not responsible for making these requests, and then tried to say well, it’s Ashley’s fault for writing so much down. Meanwhile, all of these years, the only discovery we ever got from Avery was responses to the 15 interrogatories that we had served on him and some screenshots of texts between him and me that I had already produced, some unrelated emails about school projects we worked on together that I had already produced, and some public Facebook posts and photos that I had already produced. 

* * *

From the very beginning, I wanted to get to the deposition. I wanted Avery to finally have to speak. I wanted to watch a pathological liar try to talk his way out of reality when I had ensured I finally had the firmest possible, impenetrable grip on it. And he found ways to delay, and delay, and delay, and try to get out of the case entirely before he had to be deposed. As it started to become more clear that depositions were forthcoming, he and his lawyers fired more shots and harder.

On July 28, 2021, they filed a motion for summary judgment, which is just a big, fancy way of asking the Court to throw the case out, yet again. In the meantime, they got the case temporarily thrown out on one of their many claims we were not complying with their excessive discovery requests, which I had always done my best to keep up with, but that time the judge sided with them, again temporarily. Once the case was reinstated, their motion for summary judgment was still pending. And it was pretty blatantly premature because a summary judgment motion is supposed to happen after discovery has concluded; it basically says looking at the evidence, for whatever reason – in this case, the statute of limitations – the case can not possibly prevail at trial, so it should be terminated now. The judge denied that, saying that discovery was not completed yet.

My rapist’s lawyers had tried everything to avoid their pathological liar of a client having to open his mouth, and nothing had stopped depositions from coming up. So for the first time, they suggested we discuss a settlement, to which I said I would be willing to consider after he is deposed. They responded to that by immediately sending out subpoenas to other witnesses and scheduling their depositions – dragging other people into it, when normally our depositions would come first.

* * *

One of those depositions occurred on December 30, 2021, which was the deposition of a platonic male friend and centered around the texts that had been exchanged between us. I had not seen the messages until that day. That friend had produced them directly to my rapist’s attorney. Some of the texts are relevant, a very specific number of them, a very small percentage of the 25,976 text messages that were shared with my rapist. And he and his attorneys got to go wild with them. They pointed at anything that might come across as sexual and did some classic attempts at implying that the rape victim has a sexual history and therefore was asking for it – a very tired tactic that is so problematic and irrelevant that it’s not even allowed in many jurisdictions, including New Jersey criminal court, that had the extra added layer of being willfully taken out of context in my case specifically. No one disputes that I was a virgin when Avery raped me, not even Avery. But somehow he’s allowed to basically try to embarrass me with actually completely irrelevant text messages to someone else while sort of implying that god forbid I had a sexual thought ever in my life therefore I was asking for Avery to rape me. Frustratingly, the reality is that some of those very text messages seem clearly uncharacteristic of me and are probably stronger evidence of me being sexually abused at the time than anything else. There’s a lot wrong with what happened in that deposition, but I’ll leave it there.

At one point, my mom showed up to a deposition that Avery’s attorneys never actually confirmed with my attorney, therefore he was not there and unavailable. They attempted to pressure her into going forward with the deposition without me having any representation there, which thankfully, she refused. And then of course, Avery and his lawyers tried to use that against me and my attorney. One of Avery’s attorneys also made negative, belittling comments about me and my trauma to my mom while she was there, as if she might side with him.

Avery’s attorneys initially said they’d need five full days to depose me, again I expect to try to intimidate me. Some jurisdictions limit the amount of time a deposition can last to a day, to put context to that. Throughout the lawsuit, I would generally opt to go along with whatever felt like the path of least resistance in order to move the case along, and at this point, my clear goal was to depose Avery. So although his lawyers were refusing to commit to a date when that could happen, I spent all day on January 5 and 6, 2022 being deposed by my rapist’s attorney. It was bad. Painful. Dragging on in ways it shouldn’t have. Focusing on all the wrong things. At some point, my attorney characterized the deposition itself as abuse. My attorney made attempts to have the judge intervene to limit the deposition, to make Avery’s attorney waste less time, etc. The deposition ended on January 6 with dispute as to whether or not it would continue. And Avery’s deposition was continuing to go unscheduled.

* * *

On January 26, 2022, the detective who wrote the police report was deposed. His choice to be careless at best and lie at worst, has allowed my rapist’s attorney to suggest I’ve changed my story, by claiming I said the things the detective wrote in the report. Thankfully, along with the detective’s summary is my formal, verbatim statement, which shows that I’ve been consistent. But that doesn’t stop Avery’s attorney from trying to suggest otherwise. The detective’s deposition was, almost literally, Avery’s attorney asking the detective what I said, and then the detective reading a line from the police report word for word, then he’s asked another question, then he reads the next line, and so on. It was undeniably obvious that the detective had no memory of me reporting this crime and was just relying on what he had written — which was inaccurate from the start.

And if his deposition simply being a formal reading of the police report wasn’t bad enough, he also had some scribbled down notes from when he talked to me. When asked about those things, he made shit up to explain what their meaning was when he couldn’t remember. For example, he had written a note about smiley faces, which is referring to a weird passive aggressive thing Avery would do the year following the rapes where he’d message me upsetting things along with a smiley face, and it was confusing and infuriating. The detective couldn’t remember why he had noted something about a smiley face, and rather than admitting that, he completely made up that Avery would send me smiley faces “after they had intercourse … and I believe that was him saying, you know, he enjoyed himself obviously but let’s keep it to ourselves.” The detective genuinely, utterly made that up. 

The detective also shared his opinion that Avery “obviously knew Ms. Zaccaro was enamored with him,” and when my lawyer asked him what he based that on, the detective stated, “The fact that, you know, she said they were friendly, very friendly, and he had – there was one thing in one of these statements where he had told her she was pretty and on another occasion he mentioned something about wanting to have sex with her, so that led me to believe that, you know, obviously, if she was continuing to voluntarily meet up with Mr. Peterson, there had to be some attraction present.” So there you have it, folks, absolutely stunning policework, the reason that the detective decided that while I was there reporting my rape, that actually I was enamored with my rapist, is because he told me he thought I was pretty and I stayed friends with him.

I’m truly fucking speechless. Sorry.

* * *

There were depositions of two of my witnesses scheduled for the end of January, meanwhile Avery’s attorneys were continuing to refuse to produce him until I agreed to be deposed for a third day, as if THE DEFENDANT’s deposition was some optional thing. My lawyer said he wouldn’t produce our witnesses if they wouldn’t produce Avery for a single day of deposition. So my witnesses didn’t appear, and Avery’s attorneys tried to make it seem like it was all my/my attorney’s fault and that they’d done nothing wrong. And I got the impression the judge felt the same way.

The judge eventually set a schedule for when depositions had to occur by. She granted Avery’s attorney four more hours with me, and she set the deadline for that to occur months before Avery ever had to appear for his first and only day of deposition. It felt unfair, but I was numb to it and mostly just happy it was finally going to actually happen.

My third day of deposition was supposed to happen May 17, 2022 followed by Avery’s deposition on the 18th. However, due to the fact that I was not living at home in New York anymore as a direct result of the consequences of this lawsuit on my mental health, I had been unable to provide hard copies of notebooks my rapist requested which he already, for the most part, had scanned copies of, and in addition, many of those notebooks had been water damaged and were covered, completely, in black mold. At the last minute, Avery’s team decided they would not go forward with my deposition until they had the moldy hard copies. I had already flown to New Jersey and was staying in the hotel I’d booked to be there in time to attend my deposition. I would have been able to avoid those costs if they had decided sooner that only Avery’s deposition would be going forward that week. But at the last minute they insisted on getting those moldy notebooks before moving forward with my third deposition, so they had to postpone it and arrange for someone to pick them up at my apartment building in New York. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, at my rescheduled deposition on May 31, 2022 (which to their credit they allowed me to do via Zoom), no questions were asked that couldn’t have been asked before they got the hard copies of those books. 

On May 18, 2022, Avery’s deposition finally happened. The only thing I want to say about it right here is that he answered one question like this: “I’m not really comfortable giving that out,” and he was permitted to not answer, to be given the privacy he demanded.

Imagine if every time I was uncomfortable during this lawsuit, I had been given the privilege of privacy. Imagine if just once I had been allowed to not do something because I was uncomfortable.

* * *

On June 10, 2022, my rapist filed another motion for summary judgment. In it, they used quotes from my private journals, where I would sometimes write things down I’d never dream of saying, that I often didn’t even really accept as true, in moments where at my strongest I could secretly record for none to see, that indicate I was struggling with what had happened with Avery, once in the span of five years from 2011 to 2016 calling what he did abuse, and once admitting to “feeling raped.” My rapist’s motion points to 30 instances at most over the course of those five years, where I wrote something down in a journal that was a safe place for me to express a complicated, scary, fleeting thought, that maybe, my friend Avery who I trusted and cared about and had to believe cared about me, had done something that really messed me up. My journey to understanding I’d been raped was not linear. It was confusing. It was even more confusing because alongside my undiagnosed PTSD that my rapist’s motion documents so well, I was still friends with him, and he was continuing to manipulate me all of those years. If there were 30 days where I felt strong enough to let myself think that something was wrong about what happened, there may have been 1,795 days where I couldn’t even think that. The evidence I didn’t understand I’d been raped is in the fact that I remained his friend, I believed in him, until November 4, 2016. And the evidence of my journey to understanding he had raped me is evidence that he raped me. In my rapist’s lawyer’s motion’s own words, the evidence is “overwhelming, competent, and irrefutable” and “demonstrates that the plaintiff (me) was continuously aware of the facts regarding her alleged sexual abuse by ARP.”

And somehow, that is where it ends. On January 9, 2023, the judge granted Avery’s motion for summary judgment, which means the case is dismissed, over, Avery wins, unless I appeal (remember how long that took last time?), because the overwhelming, competent, irrefutable evidence shows that I was raped – but I knew about it, and therefore the two-years-from-when-I-turned-18 statute of limitations expired. My rapist wins, because there’s too much evidence I knew I was raped too long ago to pursue justice due to the statute of limitations. It ends with my rapist winning by arguing that the evidence proves I was raped.

* * *

I am not a perfect person. I’m not a perfect client. I’m not a perfect plaintiff. I’m not a perfect victim. My imperfections are irrelevant to what Avery did to me and the consequences that he deserves. Avery choosing to rape and abuse me has consistently been an afterthought to the protections the laws are providing him, while my response to his abuse has been put under a legal microscope that zooms in only on what I wish I’d done better and not on the ways that my life is evidence of what he did. I understand that there is simply no way for a rape prosecution or lawsuit to be utterly untraumatic or unintrusive. But there are so. many. ways. that it has been worse than it’s needed to be. This is a system that time and time again enables abuse and empowers abusers to use it to perpetuate further abuse. Something has to change. There is no justice in this.

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