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Rachel Bradshaw said she was raped in the high school band room in her hometown of Henderson, Texas, when she was just 17. A nurse examined Bradshaw for evidence of sexual assault two days after the incident and found tears in her vaginal area, but it wasn’t enough for the police to conclude it was rape.
Instead, Bradshaw, 21, said that within 24 hours, police determined the sexual intercourse was consensual. Taking the lead from the police, her high school sent her and her alleged rapist to an alternative disciplinary school together.
Bradshaw still battles with the anger and anxiety of that dark period. She still doesn't understand how the police were able to make that judgment and so stunningly fast. And she's had no success in her quest for answers. Now, four years later – four years after the case was closed – the police are still denying her a copy of her own police report.
The back story
Bradshaw said a fellow student – a football player and bandmate - forced himself upon her when she was a senior at Henderson High School in December 2010.
“There actually wasn’t that much talking,” she said. “More just like an abrasive approach where you didn’t really know what was going on….I just know from the moment where things escalated, I didn’t feel comfortable.”
When she reported the assault to a teacher immediately afterwards, Bradshaw said she was told to confront the boy who attacked her. She didn't, and instead stayed home sick from school the next day. The day after, however, she decided to ask a different teacher for help.
“I had this really strong feeling to tell someone else. I didn’t know," she said. "I didn’t understand any of the background of why. Why should I tell someone else? Or – if I can trust them or who I should tell."
That teacher reported the incident to school administrators, who alerted Bradshaw's parents and contacted the police. But the school failed to conduct its own investigation in accordance with the legal requirements of Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act. Instead, administrators relied on the local police department to handle the case.
When the local police concluded it was consensual, Bradshaw was shocked.
"I was very, very angry,” she said. “I knew that it wasn’t consensual. I knew that he had forced me.”
Her mother, Colleen Chevallier, said the sheriff's office told her that the police didn't believe her daughter because she didn't cry during her interview.
"I don't know a whole lot of people that go into shock and cry. Is it ok for a girl not to cry?" she said. "I looked at my husband, we were leaving the sheriff's office, and I said, 'Do they know that women have the right to vote? I mean I felt like I had gone back 100 years.'"
We wanted to learn what the detectives had discovered during their short investigation. So, we asked Bradshaw if we could see her police report. Bradshaw keeps all her papers related to the 4-year-old case in a drawer in her kitchen. She said she wants to be able to grab them fast in case of a fire. But she explained that she didn't have a copy of the police report to show us. She'd never gotten one.
We reached out to the Henderson Police Department to obtain a copy of the actual police report. I filed a public records request under the Texas Public Information Act on October 13, and was denied a week later,because the alleged perpetrator was a juvenile at the time. That rejection came with a letter written by attorney Joe Shumate on behalf of the City of Henderson and cited a 2011 Attorney General’s opinion and Section 58.007 of the Texas Family Code:
…(c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), the enforcement records and files concerning a child and information stored, by electronic means or otherwise, concerning the child from which a record or file could be generated may not be disclosed to the public…
Since I had been denied, I immediately asked Bradshaw if she could access her own police report. It seemed logical. After all, she was the alleged victim.
In mid-October, Bradshaw went to the Henderson Police Department, where she tried to pick up the report in person. At first, Bradshaw said she was told the detective who could help her was “out to lunch.”
She returned a few hours later, but still wasn’t able to get the police report. She said she was told to contact a detective on the phone. Eventually, after making numerous phone calls, Bradshaw learned that she would have to file her own formal request, similar to mine, in order to access the investigative documents detailing her own sexual assault case.
On November 5, she received an almost identical denial letter of the City of Henderson from the Law Offices of Joe Shumate, the attorney who responded to our request on behalf of the City of Henderson:
…Regretfully, we cannot give a more positive response to your inquiry, but we are sure you are aware of the fact that Texas law limits access to juvenile records. If we may be further service, please so advise.
Prior to Rachel’s request for her own police report, I searched online to learn more about the rights of sexual assault victims in Texas. The website for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice states that sexual assault victims have a right to all information regarding evidence collected in the investigation of the offense, unless it would interfere with the case. This would include police reports.
Art. 56.021. Rights of Victim of Sexual Assault
(a) In addition to the rights enumerated in Article 56.02, if the offense is a sexual assault, the victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim is entitled to the following rights within the criminal justice system:
(1) if requested, the right to a disclosure of information regarding any evidence that was collected during the investigation of the offense, unless disclosing the information would interfere with the investigation or prosecution of the offense, in which event the victim, guardian, or relative shall be informed of the estimated date on which that information is expected to be disclosed;
According to Sandra Park, an attorney with the ACLU, Bradshaw’s inability to access her own case isn't uncommon. The official parties to the case are the accused and the state, she explained, and not the victim.
“The problem is that she is not considered a party to the juvenile proceeding under the law, and the law they refer to does not make any allowance for releasing redacted versions of the record to others,” Park said.
But this directly conflicts with Texas law concerning the rights of sex assault victims to obtain their police reports.
“There are important privacy interests when it comes to juvenile records,” said Park, “but I do think it is a problem when the complainant herself cannot access what happened.”
Four years after the incident, Rachel has never seen the police report in her case – even though so much trauma has resulted from it. The incident left Bradshaw feeling vacant for years. She avoided being alone. For a long while, she couldn't take a shower unless her mother was in the bathroom with her.
“Honestly, I didn’t see joy,” she said. “I didn’t see happiness. I didn’t see any kind of reason to want to be where I was.”
Then, the ACLU filed a complaint with the federal government on Bradshaw’s behalf and won. In June 2012, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that the school had violated Title IX and drew up a plan to bring the school in line with the law, including improving its sexual assault training and reforming its investigation procedures.
“Henderson Independent School District…continues to be committed to providing a safe environment for all of our students,” the school said in a statement.
Bradshaw is in a much happier place now and can look back with some pride at the role she had in forcing her school to do better.
“I would really like for them to keep the policies that have been changed through my assault," Bradshaw said. "We obviously can’t change what had happened in the past."
Right now, Bradshaw is doing her best to focus on the future.
She’s expecting a baby girl with her new husband in January.