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She said 'no': a first-hand account of campus rape

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She said 'no'

Editor's note: Ashley's, Haley's and Brian's names were changed to protect the victim's privacy.

Ashley sits at a wooden table and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear with a sweaty palm. Her eyes shift nervously from the officer to the floor. OSU Police Officer Colt Chandler places his folded hands on the table and looks at her, waiting for her to say something.

Ashley wishes she was alone.

Chandler slides a document in front of her.

"All I need from you is a signature right there," he says in a video provided by OSU Communications. "You can read through there and see what's going on."

But Ashley knows what the document says. As soon as she signs the paper her case will be closed, so she scribbles her signature on the bottom line without hesitation.

"Is there any particular reason why we chose to do this?"  Chandler asks.

Ashley pauses for a moment.

"I just don't think it's a strong case," she says.

It was the alcohol, the lack of evidence and the little support she felt that shaped her decision to not press charges against her rapist.

It crushed her.

"I felt like I didn't matter, and what happened to me didn't matter," Ashley said in a recent interview with the O'Colly. "I felt like a statistic pushed under the rug."

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Ashley was 18, a freshman in the beginning of her second semester at Oklahoma State University. 

On a Friday night in February 2012, Ashley and her roommate returned to their dorm with two men in their early 20s after a night of heavy drinking. One was a friend of her roommate, and the other, Brian, was a stranger.

Ashley and her roommate, Haley, went to bed and offered to let the men sleep in their living room.  Haley said soon after she fell asleep, she woke to find Brian raping Ashley.

Despite their emotional positions, students facing sexual assault must make decisions quickly.  Complete a rape kit? Press charges through the criminal justice system? Let their university handle it? Remain silent?

Ashley chose to complete a rape kit, and upon arrival to the hospital was told she would work with the university police department because the rape happened on campus.

Brian, a non-student from Dover, Oklahoma, never confirmed nor denied raping Ashley. In an interview with Chandler, assistant investigator of the case, and investigator Sgt. Daniel Ray, Brian said he could remember events before and immediately after, but not what occurred while he was in Ashley's bed.

Many victims say they regret reporting their rape to the police. Ashley would be no exception.

Although OSU police officers told Ashley she could file charges against Brian, she said she chose not to after being told her case wasn't strong, and that she could face a years-long court process.

Ashley signed a document at the OSU Police Department in March 2012 declining to file charges against Brian.

The only thing Ashley could do from there, she said, was begin to move on.

It's a common scenario.

The OSU Police Department reported it had investigated nine sexual assault cases in 2012, four in 2013 and seven so far this year.

Ninety-five to 98 percent of rape cases that go through the OSU Police Department are similar to Ashley's, said Michael Robinson, chief public safety officer, who has worked at the police station for more than 11 years.

Alcohol is involved, details are fuzzy and sometimes the victim wakes up after a night of drinking and doesn't understand exactly what happened, he said.

To this day, Ashley said she doesn't remember all of the details of that night, but she is certain she was raped.

‘You were just raped’

It was a cold night in February, and Ashley was blasting a country song through her Bennett Hall suite, getting ready to go to an off-campus party at a nearby house.

Around midnight, she slid her feet into a pair of brown cowboy boots and went to the living room to meet Haley and their suitemate.

The girls were walking into the house as a friend of Haley's was leaving. He said he and his friend, Brian, were asked to leave because they didn't have an invitation.

It was clear the two had been drinking. When the two men admitted they couldn't drive, Haley offered to give them a ride home.

It didn't take long for the group to decide it was too early to end the night.

They went back-roading near the Cimarron River but stayed for less than half an hour before they returned to Bennett Hall to continue drinking.

Brian, who none of the girls knew, put his arm around Ashley's shoulder on the drive back. They began to kiss, but Ashley quickly turned her head away. She said she didn't think much of it because they were both drunk.

The group took a few more shots when it returned to the dorm and went to bed around 2 a.m. Haley and Ashley offered to let Brian and his friend sleep in the living room of their suite because they had been drinking.

At this point, Ashley was extremely intoxicated.

Shortly after falling asleep, Haley said she was awoken on her top bunk by what felt like a rocking movement, and Ashley saying," no."

She looked over the edge of her bunk and said she saw Ashley looking up at her with glassy eyes, and Brian on top of Ashley, raping her.

Haley shouted at Brian to get off Ashley and jumped down from her bunk.

She pulled him off the bed, hitting his head on the corner of the wall in the process. Haley said he appeared to be unconscious.

Haley allowed Ashley to put clothes on and called her to the bathroom.

“Ashley, you were just raped,” she said.

Ashley wept.

Ashley, who considers herself shy and reserved, said her first reaction was to forget the incident, but Haley, worried about injuries, STDs and pregnancy, advised Ashley to go to the hospital.

Before leaving, Haley said she called a friend to get Brian and his friend out of the room.

In a five-hour visit to the Stillwater Medical Center, nurses evaluated Ashley, and she gave a statement to OSU Police Officer Chet Skimbo around 4 a.m.

While there, she completed a rape kit, a forensic tool used to collect evidence of a sexual assault during a hospital examination. It includes the collection of DNA evidence like hair, semen and saliva taken from the victim's skin, nails, clothing and genitals.

Ashley said nurses gave her a morning-after pill, which prevents pregnancy, and a test for STDs. A nurse took photos of the bite marks on her neck. 

Chandler searched Ashley's suite with her permission, took photos and collected Brian's clothes as evidence.

Around 8 a.m., she was allowed to return to her dorm.

She climbed into her bed nauseated and exhausted. Most people wouldn't want to revisit the scene.

But Ashley called it home — and she spent 74 more nights there.

The investigation

For the remainder of the weekend, Ashley seldom ate, slept almost constantly and was frequently woken by nightmares about her rape.

Early that week, she went to the OSU Police Department to give a more detailed account of the night.

In a small interview room, she met with Chandler. He first asked if Ashley wanted to press charges against Brian.

After she asked him what her options were, he said the case wasn't strong because of her lack of memory.

When Ashley pointed out that her roommate was a witness to the rape, Chandler said it was only circumstantial until he had the opportunity to interview Haley.

In her victim statement, Ashley, who had been a virgin, wrote that she stimulated Brian's penis with her hand to distract him from wanting to have sex with her.

Chandler said it wouldn't look good to a jury.  

It could be a difficult case for the district attorney to get a conviction on.

"The district attorney has to consider all of that before they file a charge," Robinson reiterated in a recent interview. "It doesn't mean it's not rape. It's still illegal, it's still rape, but you've got to convince a jury of 12 people that beyond reasonable doubt. No DA wants a losing record."

Out of the 20 sexual assault cases reported to the OSU Police Department since 2012, only one has resulted in charges filed. One case is under investigation, two are open and 11 victims declined to press charges. Six were referred to the district attorney's office, two of which are pending and three were declined, according to OSU police records.

Alcohol-facilitated sexual assault is a frequent problem on college campuses.

"It's very, very common," said Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hermanson. "But if I feel like I have the evidence to support it, it doesn't matter whether the victim was intoxicated or not."

Hermanson, who prosecutes sexual assault cases in Payne County, said getting a conviction on a sexual assault case involving alcohol isn't impossible, but it is more difficult.

Pushing a case forward without evidence wouldn't be ethically responsible for Hermanson or be morally right to the victim, she said.

And juries don't typically like when victims were drinking or drunk when something happened to them, she said. There's a stigma and pre-judgment about what the circumstances were or what led up to a sexual assault.

"I really don't think that's fair," Hermanson said. "I think that those types of things should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis."

Thinking back

A few mornings after her interview with Chandler, Ashley woke in her bed and let her eyes meet the bottom of her roommate's bunk.

But her roommate wouldn't be there.

After Haley's parents learned of the rape, Haley was moved back home where she commuted 45 minutes to school every day. Haley said it was frustrating.

But for Ashley, it was torture. Her support was gone.

She was too ashamed to tell her parents what happened and felt discouraged by police officers.  Ashley said because she didn't want to spend years fighting for a case she would likely lose, she closed it.

Almost three years later, Ashley sees a chaotic process in which justice didn't play a part in. The process was so discouraging, Ashley said, she regrets reporting the incident to the police.

In Ashley's interview with Chandler, she asked him if her parents would have to find out if she pressed charges. He told her that if she did, her name and the incident would become public record.

Chandler said that her name would appear on OSCN.net, the Oklahoma State Courts Network, which is an online public database of court documents.

"You can type in my last name and see I was issued a traffic citation in 2007," Chandler said in the interview. "Everything, everybody knows about it."

However, several victims’ advocates told the O'Colly that isn't true. Oklahoma Victims Rights' laws protect the victim's identity in sexual assault cases.

Chandler wasn't the only one confused about where victims' names appear.

In a recent interview with the O'Colly, Carrie Hulsey-Greene, public information officer for the OSU Police Department, Ray and Robinson also thought that victims' names were public record. However, normally only the victims' initials will appear in court records.

Ashley said the fear of having people learn of the incident played a major part in why she decided to not press charges against Brian.

Universities and colleges are being called upon to do more to promote awareness of sexual assaults on campus and resources for victims. The White House issued a series of recommendations for colleges earlier this year.

OSU, one of 79 schools the U.S. Department of Education is investigating for potential sexual assault policy violations, says it takes sexual violence seriously and already had some steps in place to curb it. But this semester, it implemented mandatory online sexual assault prevention training.  However, some leaders say it's not enough.

 "Having an online training program mandated for incoming students is a good start, but having it as the only required program without a mandatory in-person program that follows it is certainly not enough to create long lasting changes," said Nadir Nibras, president of OSU's men's chapter of 1 in 4, a sexual violence prevention group.

Ashley, who graduates in December, said she wants to see a change in how victims of college-setting rapes that involve alcohol are perceived in the future.

"I felt like it was never taken seriously because I had been drinking," she said. "Like maybe it didn't matter as much. But no matter what anyone says, whatever the police say, you've got to move on. You have to keep going."

On Thursday, the OSU Police Department reported an on-campus sexual assault. That investigation is ongoing.

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