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New York: $360,000 Award for Guard’s Statutory Rape of Prisoner

New York: $360,000 Award for Guard’s Statutory Rape of Prisoner

by Matt Clarke

The New York Court of Claims has awarded a former prisoner $360,000 in a lawsuit in which she claimed a prison guard repeatedly had sexual contact with her, some of it unwilling, and impregnated her.

The plaintiff, Jeanette Perez, a former New York state prisoner, alleged that she had multiple sexual relations with a prison guard and was initially a willing participant but was later unwilling. She became pregnant while incarcerated in 2001 and had a son for whom she and the former guard, Peter Zawislak, share custody. Perez filed a claim against the state saying she had suffered psychological and other damages due to the sexual encounters – especially when she was unwilling.

Perez testified to a long history of sexual and drug abuse starting when she was abused by an uncle at age five. Her mother did not believe her report of the abuse and beat her. Several other men abused her sexually and she eventually became addicted to drugs and worked as a prostitute to support her habit. That led to her imprisonment at the Bayview Correctional Facility, where she met Zawislak.

Perez described mental instability and suicide attempts prior to her incarceration. Apparently, the regimented life in prison helped her regain stability and she started to care about her future. When Zawislak first seduced her, giving her a wedding ring, she believed they would marry following her release. She later discovered that he had similar relationships with other prisoners; thereafter, she said her sexual encounters with Zawislak were unwilling, causing her psychological damage. Zawislak pleaded guilty to rape in the third degree and received a one-to-three year prison sentence.

Perez asked for damages for the statutory rape, the subsequent psychological damage and the deterioration in her living conditions after her relationship with Zawislak was discovered. The court noted that Perez had credibility problems which included lying to a federal magistrate in a parallel federal suit, lying to psychological counselors and inconsistent testimony. There were also photos showing what appeared to be a happy relationship with Zawislak, sharing custody of their son after her (and his) release from prison. Accordingly, the court rejected Perez’s claim that the trauma caused by sexual encounters with Zawislak had resulted in psychological damage.

However, the Court of Claims awarded $350,000 “for the statutory rape by Zawislak, with damages principally for the period of unwilling violation of [Perez’s] corporal integrity for more than a month and [her] fear during that period.” The court also awarded $10,000 for her removal from an honor dorm at Bayview and transfer to a special housing unit until the transfer was reversed by the facility’s deputy superintendent. Therefore, the court awarded a total of $360,000 with statutory interest plus the return of any filing fees.

Perez was represented by attorney Gary E. Divis. See: Jeanette P. v. State of New York, New York Court of Claims, Claim No. 108710, UID No. 2013-016-005.


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Related legal case

Jeanette P. v. State of New York