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On Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, Hannah* woke up in her Howard University dorm room with a piece of her life missing. Hannah, a 19-year-old sophomore, had unexplained pain in her rectum and hip. Her panty liner, which she had worn the night before, was missing. Vomit dotted her gloves and coat. Her friend Kerston lay beside her in the skinny dorm room bed. Kerston told Hannah not to shower—they had to go back to the hospital to secure a rape kit. That weekend, Hannah claims that she was provided the following excuses for why she could not receive a sexual assault medical forensic examination: She was drunk; she ate a sandwich; she was a liar; she didn’t know her attacker’s last name; the police had to authorize the exam; she was outside the hospital’s jurisdiction; she wasn’t reporting a real crime; she was blacked out; she changed her story; her case was already closed.
This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped. And so far, Hannah has not officially accused anyone of raping her. In the summer of 2007, she filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, both universities, and several doctors she says denied or interfered with her medical care. She seeks damages for medical malpractice and negligence from the medical defendants and the D.C. police, which she says resulted in “the probable loss of the opportunity to see her assailant brought to justice.” Across the board, the defendants denied Hannah’s claims. The parties in the case, which has yet to go to trial, were not interviewed for this story; this account is reconstructed from sworn deposition testimony taken in Hannah’s suit.
It was a Friday night in the middle of finals, the end of the first semester of sophomore year. Some Howard guys who lived in an off-campus house on Bryant Street were throwing an off-campus birthday party for Daniel, a friend of Hannah’s. She convinced a couple of friends to come with her. They pre-gamed in Hannah’s friend Sade’s room, sipped on cups of Malibu mixed with fruit punch, and then walked the half-mile to the house.
There, Hannah, Sade, and Kerston engaged in normal college party activities—they filled their cups with red spiked punch from the Gatorade containers in the kitchen, danced in the darkened living room, and chatted on the couch in the middle of the house. Amanda, another friend from school, arrived later and joined the group. They all obeyed the Howard boys’ house rule: Nobody goes upstairs.
Enforcing the directive was Tito, a big, muscular guy who grew up in the shadow of the university. Hannah had seen Tito around campus before. They met through her older sister, a bank employee and Howard grad six years her senior. Tito testified that he met Hannah’s sister when she sprained her ankle playing tennis and took an ambulance to the hospital. Tito, the EMT who responded to the scene, managed to secure her number on the ride, and they went out a few times. When Hannah started school at Howard, Tito introduced himself to her, gave her a ride home from the movies once, and hit on some of her friends. Tito had worked security at area nightclubs when he wasn’t on duty, and he sometimes volunteered his services to Howard house parties. At the Bryant Street party, he stood inside the door, screened kids for drugs and knives, and stopped anyone who tried to mount the stairs.
As reinforcement for Tito, the housemates had erected a furniture barricade at the foot of stairs—a few chairs stacked together to prevent partygoers from sneaking up to the second floor. Brandon, one of the Howard boys hosting the party, told partygoers that he had blocked off the stairs because the bathroom wasn’t working. Actually, the toilet was fine—Brandon was so fastidious about protecting his stuff that he blocked off the house’s only toilet. Guests were forced to pee at another party across the street, or in the alley behind the house.
A couple of hours of partying later, the music started to slow down, the lights turned on, and the girls decided it was time to go. By then, it was early morning. In a deposition, Hannah testified that she was dancing with Bilal, a Howard student who lived with Brandon in the house. When Hannah woke up the next day, this is the last thing she would remember: “He was getting a little rough, and I remember trying to kind of just get away from him,” she recalled in the deposition. “I remember I tried to stop dancing with him.…[There was] a little too much of sexual suggestion.…just touching me too much.” She started to feel blurry, woozy, dizzy, “and then nothing.”
As the party wound down, Kerston, Sade, and Amanda briefly left the room to retrieve the crew’s coats. When they returned to the living room, the girls testified that Hannah and Bilal were gone. They called her cell phone. She didn’t pick up. They looked for her around the first floor of the house, on the stoop, in the back alley. She wasn’t there. They asked other students at the party if they had seen her. They hadn’t. They start calling her name. No response. After looking for her for several minutes, there was only one place she could be.
“So I go to the steps,” Sade testified in a deposition. “I move [the barricade],” she said. “I’m walking up the steps, and Tito like just comes behind me. He grabs my arm…and he literally like brings me back down the steps.…And I’m like get off me, what are you talking about?” The three girls gathered around Tito and told them they were just looking for their friend; Tito explained that he’d been hired to keep people from reaching the second floor. At first, the girls had suspected that Hannah had just gone upstairs to use the restroom, but after a few minutes of arguing with Tito, they grew more concerned. “So at this point like I’m mad,” Sade testified. “At this point we’re yelling. I don’t know what I’m saying exactly, but I’m yelling.” The girls began screaming Hannah’s name up the stairs, hoping she’d hear them and come down. She didn’t.
After five minutes of yelling, the girls insisted that Tito go up the stairs to look for her himself. Tito testified that he climbed the stairs, saw an empty bathroom and some locked bedroom doors—but no Hannah—and reoccupied his post at the foot of the stairs. When he returned, “he was sweating,” Kerston testified. “I remember him taking off his hat and rubbing, like wiping his forehead and he was just like shaking his head.…Just sitting there, sweating.” In her deposition, Sade testified, “Tito looked nervous, like he knew that something was going on that shouldn’t have been going on,” she said. “I know Tito knew her before this, so maybe his conscience was getting to him or something.…Why are you acting this funny about a bathroom?”
The girls started screaming again. “At this point I know she could hear us, if she was in the bathroom,” Kerston testified. “So she would have came down the stairs by now. We were yelling her name, we were yelling at him to bring her down, I mean she would’ve—she would’ve came downstairs by now.” Then, Brandon came running down the stairs swearing at them to leave his house. “He came past Tito and he was like in our, like close to our faces, yelling at us,” Kerston testified. “He was telling us to get out of his house, and we were like, ‘No, we’re not leaving without our friend,’ so we didn’t leave.” In a deposition taken two years later, Brandon testified that he couldn’t recall the specifics of the interaction.
According to the testimony of the three girls, Tito then changed his story. “He said, ‘Oh, she’s coming,’” Amanda said. “Well, first he told me she wasn’t up there. I knew he was lying.” Testified Sade, “They were acting way too nervous, and they really wanted to get us out, like they were very persistent about getting us out of there, and there’s no reason for that if everything is fine and my friend is just using the bathroom,” she said. “It doesn’t take that long to use the restroom.”
Finally, Hannah appeared at the top of the staircase. “She looked drunk, like her eyes were closed,” Amanda testified. “She couldn’t really walk. She was trying to hold her balance down the steps. She was walking slow.” The girls, Tito, and Brandon watched her descend the stairs. “She looked very unaware of what was going on. She just looked out of it,” Sade said. “She was fixing herself, but she wasn’t fixed when she got done, you know?…She looked like she didn’t know what she was doing.”
The girls took Hannah by the arms, helped her into her coat, and led her slumped figure out of the house. The girls testified that Hannah had consumed a limited amount of alcohol at the party, and they couldn’t figure out why she seemed so drunk. “I’m just like what’s wrong, like what’s wrong with you,” Sade testified. “She just sort of mumbled, ‘ah, ah, ah, ah.’” The girls got about half a block down the street, grilling her all the way, before Hannah managed to indicate that someone had touched her while she was upstairs. Then she threw up orange-red vomit all over the sidewalk. Sade kept her grip on Hannah; Kerston and Amanda headed back to the house and banged on the boys’ door. Brandon and Bilal were downstairs. “It was a yelling match,” Amanda testified. “Like ‘Where is—what happened to our friend, and what did you all do,’” she said. According to the girls’ testimony, the boys screamed at them to get away. The girls threatened to call the cops, and demanded to know who took Hannah upstairs. “Adam Joseph,” the boys told them, before slamming the door in their faces. The girls later discovered that the two remaining Bryant Street housemates were not at the party that night—one with the first name “Adam” and the other with the last name “Joseph.”
Down the street, Hannah vomited incessantly onto the sidewalk. “She was too out of it to know where she even was,” Sade said. “And she looked sad.” When Kerston and Sade returned, the girls verbalized their suspicions. “I think she’s been raped, Sade,” Kerston said. “We need to go to the hospital.…She might have been like—she might have been drugged.” The girls headed toward the hospital. Hannah threw up again. They stopped a Howard University student shuttle, hopped in, and instructed the driver to take them to the hospital. Hannah threw up while getting into the shuttle. Inside, “she was just leaning to the side,” testified Sade, “she was like awake but not really there.” They exited the shuttle. She threw up again. They entered the Howard University emergency room around 3:30 in the morning. Hannah threw up.
“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. When the girls begged the doctor to treat Hannah’s symptoms of sexual assault and drugging, the girls claim that the doctor told them to leave the ER. (The doctor testified that she informed Hannah’s friends that they would have to wait six to eight hours before Hannah was treated, and that the girls chose to leave the hospital without treatment). When Kerston and Sade took Hannah back to her dorm, she threw up again.
A standard rape kit includes the following materials for collecting evidence from a rape victim’s body: swabs for collecting fluids from the lips, cheeks, thighs, vagina, anus, and buttocks; clear glass slides; a comb used to collect hair and fiber from the victim’s body; a nail pick for scraping debris from beneath the nails; white sheets to catch the physical evidence stripped from the body; envelopes for preserving the victim’s clothes, head hair, pubic hair, and blood samples; labels for all the evidence. But more than what’s in the box, a rape kit is a system, a protocol followed in order to streamline the city services deployed in the wake of a sexual assault—including medical care, police investigation, and rape crisis counseling. The contents of the kit are standard-issue hardware for any hospital emergency room. But in Washington, D.C., a rape kit can sometimes be hard to come by.
In 2000, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program was established at Howard University Hospital in order to facilitate care for the city’s rape victims. Before SANE, the District’s sexual assault survivors were encouraged to report to the OB-GYN section of D.C. General Hospital. According to Denise Snyder, executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC), rape survivors often waited in the D.C. General ER for up to 12 hours while the OB-GYNs attended to more immediate emergencies, like births. When the kits—which can take hours to complete—were finally initiated, the residents administering them weren’t experts in medical forensic exams. Some of the residents were so inexperienced that they would have to read the instructions off the back of the box while performing the invasive exam; as non-experts, they also made for shoddy witnesses at trial.
The SANE program was meant to solve all of these problems. The program gives sexual assault survivors access to nurses who are specifically trained in performing medical forensic exams. If the victim consents to an investigation, the program alerts local police of the assault. It ensures that the completed rape kit is entered into a proper chain of custody to prevent evidence from being corrupted. It provides the victim an expert witness to testify at her trial. It gives her the option of taking STD prophylactics and emergency contraception. And it provides a rape crisis advocate to help provide emotional support throughout the hospital and police processes.
But when the DCRCC secured grants to fund the SANE program a decade ago, Snyder had trouble finding a hospital that was interested in hosting such services. In an interview, Snyder said that she contacted “all the major hospitals in the city” looking for one that would take it on. Some hospitals refused to even respond to her. Some voiced “economic concerns about how much of a drain it would be,” Snyder said. Others were more concerned with image: “One hospital’s response literally was, ‘We don’t want to be the rape hospital,’” Snyder says. Finally, Howard University Hospital agreed to host the program, providing local rape victims a greater chance of seeking justice from their attackers. But once the program was established at Howard, rape victims encountered another problem: All victims would have to receive police authorization before receiving an examination.
“It’s not just the hospitals who are skittish about being associated with rape,” says Snyder. “This is one of the greatest struggles we experience with law enforcement: The pressure on law enforcement is to always get their numbers down. But with sexual assault, seeing higher numbers should often be interpreted as a positive sign, if it means that more women are feeling comfortable to step up and say, ‘I was raped, and I demand justice.’” Snyder says she’s encountered many cases in D.C. where “the police’s assessment of what happened did not match up with what the survivor said happened,” she says. “For a sexual assault survivor who has already experienced an intense violation, to have your governmental system essentially say to you, ‘This didn’t happen, if it did happen it doesn’t really count,’ is devastating.”
Each year, D.C. police report a handful of rape cases as “unfounded”—meaning that after an investigation into a rape allegation, it is determined that no crime actually occurred. But D.C.’s record of unfounded cases doesn’t include all the sexual assault allegations that are dismissed without so much as a report, nevermind an investigation. According to MPD officer Tandreia Green, who was deposed in Hannah’s case, the police department will often quickly determine whether a rape allegation has “ground basis for furthering their investigation” or not. If it doesn’t, Green testified that she won’t take a report at all and will abandon the case with no paperwork. Of all the sexual assault complaints to which Green has responded, she testified that “probably half” ended in the determination that no police report would be filed.
What kinds of allegations are discarded without an investigation? Detective Elgin Wheeler, who joined the Sexual Assault Unit in 2006 and was also deposed in Hannah’s case, provided the example of the “evangelist computer.” According to Wheeler’s testimony, one woman reporting an assault to the SAU claimed that she had been attacked by “a spiritual computer” which, “once you type on it, the images jump off the computer and jump onto you which sexually assaults you,” Wheeler said. “She walked away and had, quote, hot semen running down her leg.…the reason why she was at the hospital was because she woke up and she had, quote, balls of fire on her pubic hair. So I don’t go out for that.”
Detective Vincent Spriggs, who spent 14 years with the Sexual Assault Unit and was deposed in Hannah’s case, can rattle off a handful of rape allegations that didn’t call for a serious investigation from the SAU. In one case, Spriggs testified, “A young lady was found. She was nude, As a matter of fact, in the middle of the street. It was learned that she was actually high on PCP and was never touched.” Then, there was the alleged victim who framed her sex partner because she was “just pissed at him”; the woman who was “trying to get a boyfriend in trouble”; the kid who was “trying to get out of trouble with their parents”; the wife who had “gone over to someone’s house and …needed an explanation to get back in the house without getting into trouble with their husband”; the woman who had unprotected sex and “used [the rape kit request] in order to have a pregnancy test done or the morning after pill administered,” Spriggs testified.
And then there was Hannah’s case. Green, Wheeler, and Spriggs were all involved in the D.C. police response to Hannah’s rape allegation, and all contributed in the decision to abandon her case without completing a sexual assault allegation report.
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.”
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.”