First Person

When the man I accused of sexual assault sued me  

February 16, 2023
By Beyond My Ken - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

It was a Monday morning, and I woke up to find four missed calls and two unread text messages from a number that was not plugged into my contacts. 


“Just stopped by to say hello.”

My heart started racing. Did he actually show up at my house an hour after what he did? I knew he lived on the next block, so the idea wasn’t far-fetched. For the first time in the more than three decades I’d lived in my neighborhood, I made a conscious decision not to drive down the adjacent block.

During our conversation the night before, he said he was a prosecutor and had an upcoming trial that he felt was newsworthy. I was a courts reporter for the New York Daily News. I gave him my business card with the aim of gaining a new source within the beat I covered. He took my business card while chugging more than one sixteen-ounce cup of Hennessy, straight. 

We met after I begrudgingly agreed to drive him home after a baby shower we both attended. While we were at a red light, he started telling me how he liked me. He grabbed my face, turned it in his direction, and shoved his tongue into my mouth. (These details, which he denied, would later become part of a court decision dismissing a defamation suit he filed against me.) I pushed him off me and told him to stop. I put the car in park and repeatedly said “Get the fuck out of my car.”

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After confiding to a colleague about what happened, I realized I had been sexually assaulted and should go to the police. But as much as I knew I needed to report this guy to get an order of protection—legal documentation to keep him away from me and my family—I did not want to have to disclose what happened to my editor. I was already embarrassed and blamed myself for being overly friendly.

I covered courts in New York City. I wrote about the arrest of politicians, teachers, and law enforcement officials. It was a given that a sex crime prosecutor getting arrested for sexually assaulting someone is a headline that writes itself. And because of my experience covering the criminal justice and civil legal systems, I knew I should not be reporting on my own case. 

Do I call my editor? Or do I let this go? I thought about the next woman who might encounter him and how my silence could lead to a worse situation for her. So I made the uncomfortable call, and my editor told me to take as much time off as I needed. 

Professional courtesy 

The waiting room of the precinct house was dimly lit. There were two hard plastic seats connected to each other and nailed onto the wall. The seats were a short distance away from the permanently scratched Plexiglas that divided the public from the police officer sitting on the other side. 

This police officer, a Black woman, invited me to sit on the other side of the wall that separated the public from the inside of the precinct. As I sat beside her desk and described what happened the night before, she took notes. I explained that I wanted an order of protection to keep him away from me and my family. She explained that in order to get an order of protection, he must be arrested. 

Tears began to blur my vision. I agreed to press charges.

The officer asked if I had time to go to the sex crime unit to continue the investigation. At an adjacent precinct, I was escorted into a red-brick building and up to the second floor. I was placed into a windowless office with baby-blue walls as a friend waited for me on the bench in the hallway. 

Within minutes a woman detective walked in, introduced herself, and began to explain the next steps in the investigation. As I began to spell my name out for her, there was a knock on the door. She apologized for the interruption and stepped outside. She returned, sat at the desk, and explained to me that she had to stop the interview and wait for a detective from Manhattan’s Special Victims Unit to come to Brooklyn to continue the investigation. 

I waited for three hours, then was introduced to Detective Eusebio Santos. He told me that we had to leave the building immediately and find another precinct to go to, to complete my portion of the investigation. He then explained that we had to leave the Brooklyn SVU precinct in haste because I had coauthored an article about one of their detectives. 

The trial   

For almost a year, only my close friends, family, and some colleagues knew I was the unidentified newspaper reporter who had accused a sex crimes prosecutor of sexual molestation and harassment—both misdemeanors.  

It was a week before the May 2018 criminal trial of the man who was charged with sexually assaulting me when my name was published for the first time in association with the case because of the defamation lawsuit he filed against me before jury selection. 

Prior to his lawsuit, I was protected by an ethics rule in journalism that discourages naming a sexual assault or harassment victim in news reports without his or her consent. My name was now listed as a defendant in his lawsuit. Newsrooms were now able to expose me—and some, like the New York Law Journal and Law360, did. 

It would forever change the course of my life and force me to be a more empathetic and compassionate journalist.  

The trial prosecutor said I would be their second witness after the Det. Santos gave his testimony.    

I was placed inside a small conference room a few feet away from the courtroom’s front door, which had a slim window that allowed me to see who was walking by. As I sat with my mom and my friend—the same person who stayed with me when I filed the report—I began to daydream about who the people were walking the halls.   

A court officer knocked on the door, gave me a crescent grin, and said, “You’re up!” I took a deep breath, stood up, and walked inside the courtroom. The fluorescent overhead lights seemed much brighter that day. I scanned the gallery and saw two of my colleagues who were covering the trial.   

Once I took the single step up to the witness stand, I felt judged not only by the jury of five men and one woman, but by the court officers and the judge. These were people I had casual conversations with in between covering cases or at holiday parties.    

As I stated my name for the record, my peripheral vision found the man I had accused seated at the defense table. It was the second time I had seen him in person since I gave him a ride home after our mutual friend’s baby shower on April 30, 2017. The sight of him staring at me with his mouth hanging wide open disgusted me. I slid my chair backwards to allow the corner of the judge’s bench to block him from my view.   

The trial prosecutor asked a few questions that allowed me to tell my full story.  As I went over  each detail, I looked for an ally in the jury. I wondered why a Black woman juror resting her face in the palm of her hand didn’t look at me. Was I speaking too fast? Had she made up her mind before I even started testifying? Studies over the past ten years have shown that sexual assault cases where the victim is a Black woman are the least prosecuted. Where did I fit into this legacy? The man I accused was a Black man. I was a Black woman reporter who witnessed victims and perpetrators of sex crimes going before a judge and jury. I believed some, but not all.   

All I wanted was to get an order of protection to keep this man away from my place of business and my home. But, covering this beat, I also was cognizant of putting another Black man into the system. Black men are disproportionately incarcerated compared with men of other races and ethnicities.

It was strange and uncomfortable facing the gallery, where two of my colleagues took notes as I testified without allowing a single tear to fall from my eyes. Looking back, I wonder whether I should have cried like other survivors did during their testimony. More than anything, I just wanted to be believed.   

A reporter becomes part of the story   

The last series of questions from the prosecutor in the criminal case was about the civil lawsuit. It was the first time I was able to publicly address the editorial mistake that was the crux of the defamation lawsuit against me.  

Months after I filed the police report, I woke up to a Google alert with my byline published on an article about the criminal case. It was a benign copyediting error—of course I hadn’t been covering my own case, and the name of the reporter who actually wrote the piece was mistakenly left off the story—but for me, it was fateful. I immediately reached out to my editor. All he could do was correct the byline on the online version of the story. The printed newspaper copy had already gone out to hundreds of thousands of people.  

The defamation lawsuit used the paper’s mistake against me, alleging that I fabricated the sexual assault allegations as an opportunity to bolster my journalism career. The Daily News was included in the lawsuit as a defendant. The man who assaulted me wanted a minimum of $10 million in damages.   

The jury in the criminal case took five days to declare their deliberations deadlocked. The prosecutors offered the accused an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning if he stayed out of trouble for a year, the charges against him would be dropped, as would the order of protection I sought in the first place.    

The year passed, the order of protection was voided, and the charges were dropped from his criminal record (over my objections). But the civil lawsuit against me was still pending.   

An unspeakable isolation   

Six weeks after a hung jury was declared, I—along with a hundred other journalists at the Daily News—was laid off, but the attorneys for the newspaper continued representing me in the defamation lawsuit.    

A year after the layoffs, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that the newspaper could be removed from the lawsuit and the man I accused of assaulting me could continue to sue me. It took me months to find a new attorney to take my case pro bono.     

Finally, in November 2019, I found a firm, Loeb & Loeb LLP, that took my case. Forty civil rights and survivor advocacy organizations filed an amicus brief in support of me. They called the Manhattan judge’s decision “outrageous.”

Finally, in September 2021, I received an email from my attorneys that the New York State Court of Appeals agreed with the appellate division’s decision to uphold dismissal of the defamation lawsuit against me.   

The best news came in one sentence that read, in part, that his motion to appeal was denied.   

The state’s Court of Appeals is one of the last stops anyone can make to try and have their case saved after failing in lower courts in New York.    

Because of the court’s ruling, it is now precedent in New York State that a complainant alleging sexual assault cannot get sued by his or her alleged abuser, predator, assailant, or attacker unless there is a credible allegation that the accuser lied in filing the report. The court found there was no support in the lawsuit for such a finding against me. Indeed, as the court held, “it is difficult to see how defendant could have been more succinct or restrained in her description of the events while accomplishing her purpose: to report to the police that she had been the victim of sexual assault.”    

In April 2021, I received a private message on Twitter from a stranger in Wisconsin thanking me on behalf of his mother for “being a source of hope” for his family. My pursuit of justice was worth it in the end. 


Christina Carrega is an award-winning journalist and the National Criminal Justice Reporter for Capital B.