For years women who have been sexually assaulted have had to deal with people who believe that is they didn’t say no, then a rape did not really happen. Usually, due to drinking, drugs, or other influences a woman who finds herself unable to say no is unable to consent as well, something society is now much more likely to consider rape.
But in Washington D.C, the same argument — that a woman couldn’t consent so the sex was an assault, is being used to block one means for documenting and prosecuting her attacker.
Washington City Paper tells the story of a college student they call Hannah, who went to a party, drank, was possibly drugged, and believed she may have then been sexually assaulted. There’s only one problem — being too blacked out to know if she was raped or not mean that the hospital considered her ineligable because she wasn’t entirely certain there was an assault at all.
“We think she’s been raped,” Kerston and Sade informed an orderly as they dragged her into the hospital. Hospital officials handed Sade some paperwork to fill out on Hannah’s behalf. In the box indicating the reason for the ER visit, Sade testifies that she wrote, “raped, possibly drugged.” A nurse sat Hannah down and took her blood pressure. Hannah threw up on the floor. Kerston and Sade helped to clean it up off of the ground. The nurse put a vomit bag in Hannah’s hands. She was incoherent and barely conscious. She threw up into the bag. According to the girls’ testimony, when a doctor finally saw Hannah, she determined that she was too incoherent to consent to receive a rape kit, because she couldn’t verbally confirm that she had been raped. According to the girls, the doctor told them to take Hannah home, let her sleep it off, make sure she didn’t shower, and then return to Howard University Hospital for a rape kit the next day.
After coming back the following day, she was then told that she needed to wait of a detective to authorize a kit, but the detective felt that she did not provide enough information to truly prove that she was raped.
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.
Stymied at one hospital, Hannah went to numerous locations, all with a different excuse: her case was already closed, she was outside of the hospital’s jurisdiction, etc. But perhaps the most frightening aspect of her encounter is that fact that no one was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Rape as a crime is already inherently difficult to convict. Besides the need to deal with a criminal system that shifts the burden of proof onto the victim, rather than the alleged perpetrator, it is one of the few crimes that inevitably takes into account not just facts, but the idea of reputation as well. An attacker can build a defense not out of rebutting facts, but on casting doubt on the deeds and details of a victim’s personal life. It not only adds a wrinkle to defending but also adds incentive for a victim not to prosecute.
The only way to be more sure about a conviction is to have the ability to gather physical evidence. But when the gatekeepers to the rape kits have the ability to cut off an investigation before it even starts, then yet another crime has occurred, this one much more heinous.