Test Case: You're Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped.

Page 3 of 3

When Hannah woke up the night after the party, Kerston called Sade and filled her in on Hannah’s condition. “She’s really just confused but really mad that she’s confused, and even more mad that like we’re like, ‘we think you’ve been raped,’ and the fact she can’t sit down and it hurt,” Sade testified that Kerston told her over the phone. But Hannah decided to return to Howard University Hospital to get the rape kit she had been promised.

When Hannah arrived back at Howard, she was limping from the pain in her rectum and hip and nursing an upset stomach. She had not showered, eaten, brushed her teeth, or defecated. “I told them that I had been raped, and that I needed to receive a sex kit,” Hannah testified. Then she “waited for God knows how long.” Before coming to the hospital, she had picked up a six-inch sandwich at Subway. In the waiting room, she ate about three inches of it. When a nurse saw her eating, Hannah testified that the nurse admonished her for eating before receiving the rape kit—even though Sade and Kerston say they were never instructed that eating was off-limits. “Basically, she said you have a lost cause ’cause you ate,” Hannah testified.

Later, D.C. police officer Michael Minor reported to the hospital to take a report from Hannah. In a notebook, he recorded Kerston’s information as a witness, noted the location of the party, and sketched a description of the suspect. Then, he called the Sexual Assault Unit, where he was patched into Spriggs. Minor told Spriggs he had a victim complaining of sexual assault and needed a rape kit authorized. Though D.C. police policy requires detectives to report to the scene to interview the victim in person, Spriggs decided to do this one by phone. Spriggs told Minor to put Hannah on the line. Spriggs, sitting in the SAU office, determined that Hannah hadn’t been the victim of a crime. “She told me that she was at a party. And she remembered kissing a guy,” Spriggs testified. “I repeated back to her what she said to me. And there was a pause,” he said. Back on the phone with Minor, “I said, this young lady, she’s not reporting anything, she’s not reporting a crime to me. I’m not bringing a sex kit up here.” Spriggs then testified as to why he didn’t press Hannah to explain why she needed a kit: “I’m not going to feed you any information to give you an opportunity to embellish you story,” Spriggs testified. “If you are reporting something to me, then you should be able to tell me what that is. And she did not report any crime to me.”

Hannah testified that she did tell Spriggs she had been raped, but that he informed her “I would not be able to receive a sex kit because I do not know the person or whoever it was last name,” she said. “I didn’t know the last name. So I could not receive the sex kit.” Minor left without filling out a police report documenting Hannah’s sexual assault allegation.

When Hannah’s sister arrived at the hospital—having been notified of the crisis over the phone—she couldn’t understand why no report was taken. So she called 911 and was told that officers would respond to the scene. After a significant wait, she called the police again, and two more officers showed up—Officer Green and Officer Ginette Leveque. When they arrived, Green and Leveque called SAU’s Detective Wheeler to see if the SAU would authorize a kit; Wheeler then posed the rape kit question to his supervisor, Sergeant Kevin Rice. Rice determined no investigation would be opened, and no rape kit authorized, because Spriggs had already spoken to the victim and determined that she didn’t have a case. Rice later supported Spriggs’ determination that no crime had occurred, testifying that “blacking out is not a crime.”

advertisement

Hannah and her sister testified that Green and Leveque approached her rape accusation with hostility; Green and Leveque testified that Hannah was a liar. “They were barking at me,” Hannah testified. “They did nothing…to help me or to even try to make me feel like they would help me.…They just did not do their job, and they were rude and not being police officers to me.…And the way my case was just dismissed, the way I was dismissed, the way my story was not heard all the way through, was wrong, negligent.” Hannah’s sister testified that she attempted to reason with the officers. “I was trying to just ask them some simple questions about the procedure and what the protocol would be. I was told, you know that they were no longer going to answer any questions from me to the point where I felt threatened,” she testified. “I felt like if I was going to ask more questions [that] they were going to, like, try to detain me.…And I didn’t want any trouble with the police.”

The SAU again decided not to take a sexual assault report in Hannah’s case. Its officers did not interview any witnesses or attempt to go to the Bryant Street house. But Green did complete a miscellaneous report—which Rice later testified was meant to “cover” the officers. Unlike with a standard sexual assault report, Hannah’s full name and private information were entered into a public document. In the report, Green wrote, “[The complainant] C1 reported to both officers on the scene she attended a house party at the listed location and doesn’t know if anything happened to her. C1 reports she blacked out. C1 was informed that a report could not be taken based on the statement she thinks something happened. Then C1 stated she went into the bathroom and a guy followed her in there and touched her breast and private parts and then she blacked out. C1 was asked what do you mean by private parts and C1 stated her rectum hurts. C1 stated she went from one extreme to another so someone had to put something in her drink, then C1 changed her story and said, ‘I was drunk.’ C1 was then advised that in order to take a report I have [to] have something concrete and not have any guesses. C1 then stated she only wanted to have a sex kit done to see if anything happened and she just needs for us to say something happened. C1 was informed that we can not lie and say something happened just so she can get a kit done. C1 then asked if we had sisters or kids and wouldn’t we want them to be tested. C1 was informed again that we are not going to lie. C1 then stated OK I’ll just say I was rape to get the kit done. C1 was advised that it doesn’t work like that and advised about the importants of truth.”

Trinka Porrata, a former Los Angeles police officer and national expert on drug facilitated sexual assault, was deposed in Hannah’s case as an expert witness for the plaintiff. Porrata testified that the D.C. police response to Hannah’s report was extremely lacking. “The whole point of investigation is putting it all together,” Porrata said. “And you don’t say, ‘Well, she said she was drunk. Screw it.’ Voluntary intoxication is not consent to have sex. It may still be a sexual assault. And that’s the purpose of a proper investigation.”

Back in the waiting room, Hannah spoke over the phone with a SANE nurse, who explained that Hannah couldn’t receive a rape kit because the police had refused to authorize it. According to testimony by Hannah and her sister, the SANE nurse instructed them to take a sample of Hannah’s urine just in case the police later agreed to authorize the kit. When Hannah was finally taken back into an examination room, she testified that she told the doctor, “I was raped. I believe I need a sex kit or I would like to receive one. Is there anything you can do,” she said. “He said he could not ’cause he was directed not to.” Hannah said that she wasn’t offered a pelvic exam, but the doctor did prescribe her some prophylactics to prevent against contracting STDs. She didn’t even take off her clothes.

After being stonewalled at Howard, Hannah and her sister went to George Washington University Hospital to attempt to receive a rape kit and additional medical care there. It was now early evening on Saturday, and Hannah still hadn’t showered, brushed her teeth, defecated, or eaten anything besides the sandwich since she was possibly drugged and sexually assaulted the night before. “I was sick. I had been holding my bowels for hours because I was still in hopes of getting a sex kit,” Hannah testified. “I had just taken a—the prophylactics from Howard, so the side effects from that were kicking in. I mean, I still felt nauseated. Head was hurting. I hadn’t eaten in hours. I was still uncomfortable. My leg was still hurting. I was just overall in discomfort and pain.” After waiting for hours in the public waiting area, Hannah testified, a nurse at G.W. informed her that she was not authorized to receive a kit there, because she had already been denied one at Howard. Later, Hannah spoke to another Sexual Assault Unit detective over the phone, who informed her that her case had been closed and that she could not receive a rape kit now. Hannah cried in the waiting room and begged a G.W. nurse to provide her treatment. After a long wait, a doctor who had never treated a sexual assault patient before prescribed her some HIV prophylactics and discharged her.

After leaving G.W., Hannah went back to her dorm room and slept for a long time. When she awoke, she didn’t shower. She and her sister drove to Maryland, where they had heard that she might be able to receive a rape kit. At Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, they were told that Hannah wouldn’t be able to receive a kit because she was outside of the jurisdiction in which the rape occurred.

SANE exams can be performed up to 96 hours after an assault, but the earlier an exam is performed, the more likely that evidence of the rape can be detected on the victim’s body. In the days following her assault, Hannah attempted to receive a rape kit four times at three different hospitals. “A lot was lost at that moment,” Porrata testified. “The fact that there was witnesses there in that time point—two witnesses there who could have provided some details as to the change in behavior and the location and the possibility of a follow-up, you know, to the scene, the possibility of still finding witnesses at the scene, of evidence at the scene,” she said. “By the ongoing failure to do an exam all three times, by the ongoing failure for the police department, after that first time, to do an investigation, we have lost all possibility of knowing for sure whether or not she was sexual assaulted and whether or not she was drugged.”

For the 30 days following the party, Hannah took her daily HIV prophylactic medication, which caused extreme nausea, headaches, fatigue, and weight gain. The symptoms lasted into the middle of January. For almost a year after the event, Hannah suffered from insomnia. “I was lethargic.…I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep,” she testified. “At most, I would sleep what, three to four hours.” When she did sleep, she had nightmares—“sexual dreams, not in a good—not in a good, uh, way.” When she was awake, she was “in a depressed mood, angry. I was really angry, um, just a mean, surly demeanor, not myself. Not myself.” On campus, she did everything possible to avoid running into Tito, Brandon, and Bilal. Months after the party, Hannah went out to a club with her friends. Tito was working the door as a bouncer. According to her sister’s testimony, Hannah was so frightened to enter the club that she called her sister and asked what to do.

The next day, her sister called Tito to ask him about the events of that night. “We greeted each other. We hadn’t talked in a long time,” her sister testified. She remembered telling Tito that “something happened to my sister the night of the party, and I want to know how you were involved and everything that occurred from what you can recall.”

“He seemed uneasy,” she testified. “He went right to what I was calling for…he naturally assumed that I was calling because something had happened to her sexually. And he went straight to um, rape or sexual assault being the issue and stating that it’s a very, you know, serious thing,” she testified. “And he concluded that I was speaking of rape and immediately wanted to contact another member of the party so that he could provide me with his side of the story as well.”

A little while later, Bilal called. Tito was there on the line. “[Bilal] said that, um, Tito had pointed my sister out to him…and that was the only time he saw my sister,” Hannah’s sister testified. “He said something to the effect of, um, ‘I’m sorry that something happened to your sister and if it was something that I knew about, I want you to know…that I would have never, ever let anything happen to your sister.’” Later, Tito would testify that if a sexual assault had actually occurred at the party, he would have taken it seriously—but that there’s no way Hannah could have been raped. “You’ve got your church girls and your street girls,” he testified. Tito had determined that Hannah was a “street girl,” meaning that she was sexually promiscuous. “[I]f anything went on at this party,” Tito testified, “if anything did happen to this girl, she was willing to do it.”

Hannah eventually showered, brushed her teeth, changed her clothes. The pain in her rectum and hip subsided and she stopped limping. By January of 2007, Hannah had completed the course of HIV prophylactics and recovered from her nausea. The following summer, she went on a diet and lost the weight she had gained after the assault. The nightmares became less frequent. Now, the only evidence Hannah retains of the possible rape are her unwashed panties and T-shirt from the night of the incident, which her sister wrapped in a plastic bag and placed in her closet for safekeeping.

“I didn’t seek to sue Bilal or anyone because I had no evidence in my hand,” Hannah testified. “I’m not going to put somebody’s life in my hand like my life was played with at Howard University Hospital. If I had received a rape kit, then maybe I could have done something.”

In 2008, Howard University Hospital informed the D.C. Rape Crisis Center that it would be terminating its SANE program. According to minutes from SANE meetings filed in court, finding a replacement for the program was a challenge; G.W. Hospital was said to be “historically resistant to providing services outside the university community,” while other area hospitals were worried about the legal implications of taking on the program. “It’s gotten more complicated since we first started the program,” says Snyder of the DCRCC’s second SANE site search. “Hospitals were raising issues with a lot more intensity around liability,” she says. “We decided that we really needed to have involvement of the city at a much more direct and intense fashion than we did when we set up the original program.”

Washington Hospital Center opened the new SANE program under the supervision of the mayor’s office in 2008. In 2009, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 went into effect, which requires jurisdictions to provide rape kits to victims regardless of police authorization. Now, when a rape victim reports to the hospital, she can receive a rape kit even if she’s reluctant to report the crime to police—or if police are reluctant to investigate her claims. According to Jana Parrish, a SANE nurse who works out of Washington Hospital Center, rape kits completed at the hospital are transferred to D.C. police, who preserve the kits for 90 days following the assault, waiting for victim and detectives to authorize an investigation. At that point, “The police would ultimately still need to agree to that the elements of the crime are present and declare it a case,” Snyder says. After the three months are up, “[The police] decide how to dispose of them,” Parrish said in an interview. “I don’t know what they do with them at that time.”

Related

What’s In A Rape Kit?
...