I was Raped and the Reporting System Failed Me

I was Raped and the Reporting System Failed Me

women with head in hands

I was 18 when it happened. Some things are a little fuzzy now but the details of how the police department and hospital handled my case are still clear as day. I was raped in 2016 and the lack of care given to my report contributed to a failure to indict. I was young and afraid and the reporting system has no sympathy for that. Failures of police and hospitals have likely contributed to our nation’s average conviction rate of reported rapes being 6.6 percent. This has also probably contributed to the 69% of rapes and sexual assaults that go unreported.

The incident occurred almost 2 years ago. My family members were visiting my dad and me after the death of another family member. We talked and had some drinks and when it got late I sat outside with a male in-law and talked. I had about 2 or 3 drinks and I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came back I had a few more sips and began coming in and out of consciousness. I believe I was drugged. The last thing I remember that night was being inside near a bedroom and his hands around my neck.

The next morning my dad shook me and woke me up. I’m not sure I would have woken up otherwise. All of my clothes were on except for my underwear which was neatly tucked away under the couch I was sleeping on out of eyesight. I was in pain and trying to process what happened. I didn’t remember engaging in the act, but I knew I was in a lot of pain. The confusion mixed with fear made me feel like I was going to vomit. A large portion of my family was there and we were still dealing with the death. I felt pressured not to say anything. I looked into the mirror for the first time that day and saw two distinct bruises on each side of my neck but I had not yet remembered his hands were there. Still concerned about what happened I got him alone and asked him if we “did it”. He said yes and I immediately knew I was raped. The memory of his hands on my neck came flooding back. I was worried about what he would do if I told. If you’re capable of raping someone what else are you capable of?

We were going to the Texas state fair in Dallas that day. For a couple of hours, I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to admit my vulnerability and I didn’t want anyone to retaliate and end up in jail. I tried avoiding him as much as I could. We were walking a lot and I would often leave the group to try and gather my thoughts and push it down. It crept into my every thought. I was at a loss. I told my dad while at the fair and we began the reporting process. He found an officer at the fair and told him what happened. The officer instructed us to go to our local police department to report it.

At my local police department, I was met with some simple questions and lots of visible doubt from the officer I was speaking to. He had no sympathy and looked very annoyed. They took pictures of the bruising on my neck. In our state of panic, we forgot to also take pictures. At one point when discussing why they wouldn’t put him in custody in light of the bruising on my neck the officer snarkily responded: “those could be self-inflicted”. After the initial report was taken I was sent to Parkland hospital in Dallas Texas. This was the closest hospital that could perform a rape examination, almost 30 miles away. I was not given the address for the hospital and went to the wrong one at first. I called them to receive the address and after minutes of being put on hold, I finally found it myself on google maps.

I arrived at the hospital sometime in the late afternoon. The first thing they asked me for was the case number. I was never given a case number. I once again had to call my local police department to receive this from them. It took about 20 minutes to get through my initial check in and then I was sent to a room. Someone asked me to give a urine sample and handed me several wipes and said “use them all”. Luckily I was reluctant to accept them. I told her about my situation. Had I not been attentive that could have messed up my entire kit. The experience was everything but pleasant. The nurse jammed the IV in and bent it leaving a scar. She made very inappropriate comments regarding my situation. It took seven hours for a sane nurse (sexual assault nurse examiner) to get there to take my kit. During that time I was never offered food or a drink. Finally after the kit was taken I waited to see the first advocate I would encounter. Her job was to examine my stability to see if I would be allowed to leave. She had every pamphlet for family members and not a single piece of literature for adult rape victims. Around 5 am i was finally released.

The investigator first met with the assailant and promptly let him go home. They interviewed me the day after I made the report. He asked me several questions about my sexual history which was not at all relevant. It made me feel like being a normal adult would prevent me from winning my case. I knew then that this was going to be rough.

The police contacted me only a few times. I made every effort to reach out to my prosecutor and finally made a date to meet her. I wanted to discuss my case and give her my side of it. During our meeting, she seemed very preoccupied and was not at all sympathetic. At one point she even asked me “why are you here?” as if trying to push my case through and get justice wasn’t enough reason for me to want to be involved in it. Before I left she promised she would tell me when the case had a date to be seen by the grand jury so I could be present if they wanted to call on me. She never gave me a date before it happened and she called me a week after it had gone to the grand jury to inform me that it did not pass. Her excuse was that she was too busy to call me beforehand.

Soon after my kit was taken I began receiving bills from Parkland. I went back to the hospital to discuss this because rape kits are supposed to be free of charge. This is in accordance with the violence against women act. Eventually, they billed it to my insurance. To this day I still owe over 4000 dollars to Parkland Hospital for something I should never have been charged for.

Two days after the rape I started a civil case to get a restraining order. We spent thousands of dollars pursuing it. The prosecutions lawyer never contacted us leading us to believe he would not show up for our court date. That would have made things easy. But we were wrong. He showed up to represent himself. My heart fell when I realized I would have to answer to him on the witness stand. It felt like one final jab at my already severely shot confidence. I never made eye contact and I avoided any questions that were unrelated. He bragged about himself and made crude comments. He accused me of simply having regret sex. All I ever wanted was for him to admit to what he’d done. I wanted justice and I wanted him to receive some help.

I won my case and now have a permanent restraining order. I didn’t ask for anything but received a monetary judgment. It was somewhat of a relief to have someone validate what happened to me. But, knowing that he’s still out there likely doing this same thing to other people haunts me every day.

There were many things that went wrong through my reporting process. The first problem was the Dallas police officer not sending me directly to the hospital. My local police department made the same mistake when I arrived. Many date rape drugs can leave your system within a matter of hours. The police showing doubt in my story almost made me want to drop it. No one ever examined the room where it happened. The hospital staff and their continuation to charge me is horrible. I had to find advocates myself the police never informed me of advocates or what they do. My prosecutor was never truly on my side and had little interest in my case.

After looking for resources I found an advocate and had a discussion with her. She informed me that only three percent of rapes reported in Texas results in a conviction. I was baffled and my next question to her was how this can be fixed. There are many activist feminist groups. I would think one of them would want to take up this cause. Her response was that feminism isn’t focused on changing laws but rather, changing “culture”. She said something along the lines of “my dad teaches me to watch my drink and carry protection but he doesn’t teach my brother not to rape people”. If you don’t already know I have a strong stance on teaching someone not to rape as can be seen here. I compare it to teaching someone not to kick puppies or set cats on fire. It goes without being said and if it doesn’t, telling someone not to do it isn’t going to stop them. Even if there is a culture (I don’t believe there is), fixing it is nearly impossible while making laws is much easier. So I’ve decided that making changes to the system of reporting will be my mission.

I have made a resolution for the Republican GOP of Texas to adopt. The passage of my resolution would ensure that the Republican Party of Texas would actively push a standardized protocol for police to follow when a rape or sexual assault is reported. The resolution states: law enforcement will first determine if the victim is in need of medical assistance and provide it promptly if needed. Law enforcement will then immediately send the victim to the nearest medical facility that does rape and sexual assault examinations, providing the address. The victim will be given contact information for a sexual assault victims advocate. They will also be informed that the examination does not require an upfront payment and will be told about shelter availability. A law enforcement officer will be in contact with the advocate to coordinate taking the victim’s statement. Most importantly, something that should always be followed but often isn’t is the rule that “Regardless of degree of skepticism, law enforcement officer will avoid discouraging victim from registering complaint.”

Having a standard protocol ensures all reports are taken seriously and are conducted in a way that would encourage people to report, lead to an increase of convictions, and remove some of the victims’ fear surrounding the process. Immediately sending a victim to the nearest place that does rape and sexual assault examinations will increase the number of cases where the time between reporting and collecting evidence could be minimized. This is important because the more time that passes between the incident and getting a kit taken, the less likely the victim is to have evidence that can be collected. The popular rape drug, GHB can be out of your system in less than 12 hours after ingestion.

Giving victims contact information for an advocate will help them to better understand the process ahead and provide someone who can be there for them through it all. Victims need to understand the legal challenges they will face and how best to deal with them. Giving them someone who can help them through the process assures they are not alone. Informing victims that the cost of the examination does not have to be paid up front lets victims know that money does not have to be a factor in deciding whether or not to report. Providing information on shelter availability promotes reporting by making them feel secure knowing there is somewhere to go in case they face a threat at home. Making sure victims know they can have an advocate present during the initial report helps prevent them from answering questions law enforcement has no right to ask. And it helps victims to answer questions in the most effective way possible. Ensuring an officer is in contact with them soon after reporting further incentivizes reporting by making the process speedy and on their terms. This shouldn’t have to be said, but sadly it does. Officers must not suggest any degree of skepticism, even if it is inherently there. Doing this allows victims to feel heard and safe in their decision to report.

If this becomes a law in Texas I can then push for it to become a national standard. But there is much more work to be done. I can only imagine the countless other victims who had to go through this same botched process. I’m sure the mistakes made by the police department and the lack of care given at the hospital have persuaded many victims to not go through with prosecuting the assailant. This must be fixed and my resolution is not the end of this. Police need more empathy training and to know what to do when confronted with a rape or sexual assault report. Hospitals need more sane nurses so you don’t have to waste countless hours for evidence to be retrieved. They also need some empathy training on how to deal with rape and sexual assault victims. Although this has been a cruel process, I will continue to advocate for a better system of reporting. Things like this take a toll on a person’s psyche but it’s important to remember we can either be victims or victors. I choose the latter.

Here is the full resolution that will be at the Texas GOP convention in June: Standardized Protocol Resolution

Abby Brookshire is pursuing a chemistry degree at UT Arlington. When she's not playing video games from her childhood she's writing articles and wondering onto farms to pet cows. She is the self designated most fabulous member of Refined Right. Abby loves to meet new people, especially those who disagree with her politics and/or supply free sushi.