UT senior, sexual assault survivor opens up about rape, lawsuit against Austin police

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Photo Credit: Nikita Sveshnikov | Daily Texan Staff

Content warning: This article has a source that goes into intimate detail of a sexual assault  she encountered.  

Marina Conner said she was raped by a stranger two weeks before her sophomore year began. After dropping out of college for more than a year, she re-enrolled and will graduate this spring wearing a teal sexual assault survivor graduation cord.

“I never thought I was going to come back to university when I dropped out,” anthropology senior Conner said. “I was so messed up from the trauma, like I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I was just so scared. I (knew) it was a tremendous thing to make it through and graduate after (my) assault.”

Conner is one of eight plaintiffs in an ongoing federal class action lawsuit filed in June against the City of Austin, Travis County and five individuals, including Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. The women said the defendants violated their rights and discriminated on the basis of gender while handling their sexual assault cases. 

Conner said she got a rape kit and reported her assault within 24 hours of the incident to the Austin Police Department, and the police found and questioned her assailant within a week. He admitted to penetration, but said the act was consensual, according to Conner.

Conner was told to wait eight to 10 months for her rape kit to be DNA tested. However, the APD DNA lab was permanently shut down in June 2016. After the Department of Public Safety took over management of the lab in early 2017, Conner finally received her results that August, two years after her rape. 

“Mine came back with no DNA,” Conner said. “I had showered, and you’re not supposed to shower. I was told the (district attorney) would not be prosecuting my case.”

Conner said she felt like her case was being “thrown away.”

Determined to know why her case wasn’t being prosecuted, Conner spoke to the assistant DA, who told her about the Crime Scene Investigation effect. Conner said the effect is the idea that crime shows have influenced jurors to believe DNA is necessary proof in a rape case. 

Elizabeth Myers, one of Conner’s lawyers, said because the assailant already admitted to sexual contact with Marina, the issue was one of consent, not whether the act occurred, and DNA does not “weigh in” on consent. 

Conner said her detective denied her case on the grounds of DNA because she decided it would be too hard to argue consent in court, but Conner said she thought there was plenty of evidence the act was not consensual. 

“(I had) bruises on the back of my arms from being pinned against the wall and a gashed forehead from where he slammed it against the parking garage wall,” Conner said. “While I was being raped, I tried to call my friend I was with for help and left a voicemail on his phone, and I’m crying, saying stop.”

Conner said she’s grateful for the lawsuit because she realized it wasn’t her fault that the case didn’t go to trial.

“It’s kind of helped heal me in that way because for a very long time, I (asked myself) ‘Why did you shower?’” Conner said.

Conner said she learned from Newsy investigative journalist Mark Greenblatt, who published a national investigation of exceptionally cleared cases, that APD exceptionally cleared her case. On paper, it looks like these cases are solved, inflating APD’s rape clearance rates even when the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested. 

APD did not respond to The Daily Texan’s request for its definition of consent in a sexual assault case or whether they reveal how they classify a person’s case to that person by the time this article went to press.

A city council resolution sponsored by Council Member Alison Alter, which approved a third party investigation of APD’s reported sexual assaults, was passed in the council meeting Jan. 31. 

“It’s not a witch hunt,” Alter said. “It’s really about (having) a problem that we’ve admitted as a community.”

 

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