Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, which means about every three out of four go unreported, according to the criminal justice system.
After Abby Brookshire was raped by an in-law, her determined nature did not keep her from reporting the incident to police. As she advanced through several resources to reach justice, she realized there were significant flaws in the system.
Brookshire experienced visible doubt from officers, her rape kit was nearly contaminated and was she was even charged for a forensic exam that is covered by the Violence Against Women Act.
After she experienced the traumatic assault and then the faulty system, Brookshire made it a personal goal to help change Texas law.
And that she did.
It was a death in the family that brought the Brookshire family together in 2016. At the time, Brookshire was 18 years old. She can still vividly recall the moments that led up to her sexual assault.
Brookshire remembers drinking with family members and, after returning from the restroom, taking a few more sips before noticing a sudden change in her mental state.
Much later and while TV actor Bill Cosby stood trial for the sexual assault of several women, Brookshire explained it was then that she heard "a girl say that when she was drugged, it felt like she was underwater and that was the best way to describe how I felt. I was coming in and out and felt like I was under water."
Brookshire continued, "The last thing I remembered that night were his hands on my neck, and I was about to go to sleep; and then my dad shaking me to wake me up the next morning."
As Brookshire came to reality, she realized all her clothes were on, besides her underwear that had been tucked under a seat cushion on the couch. Confused and surrounded by family, Brookshire had no idea how to bring up her suspicions.
The family then went to the Texas State Fair, and Brookshire could not hold in her thoughts any longer.
"I had already settled in my mind that I'm going to try and forget this happened and I couldn't forget it happened, and it kept creeping into my thoughts," Brookshire shared.
While inside a butterfly exhibit, Brookshire joy remembers thinking that the beauty of nature no longer brought her joy and she began to wonder how long she could fake it. She then confided in her father, who immediately reported the incident a police officer at the fair.
That officer sent Brookshire back to Midlothian where the assault occurred — and not a hospital to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner perform an exam. A Midlothian Police officer did record her statement, and Brookshire handed over the clothes she was assaulted in.
Officers then instructed her to go to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas for the exam.
During her urinalysis to see if there were drugs in her system, a nurse handed Brookshire wipes, not knowing she was there for a SANE exam. Brookshire had to inform the nurse for the reason of her visit. If she had used the wipes, it would have contaminated any evidence. Brookshire noted it took seven hours before a SANE registered nurse arrived.
The next day, Brookshire spoke to investigators to provide a formal forensic interview.
"It turns out that I should of at least had a lawyer with me or an advocate when I did that interview," Brookshire said.
Brookshire concluded that every person she had been in contact with about the rape — from the officers to the Parkland staff — seemed as if they had never communicated with a rape victim before.
After her SANE exam, Brookshire's insurance was billed $12,000 and was left to pay $4,000, as her benefits did not cover the forensic exam and room stay. Brookshire also received a CT scan during her visit.
After Brookshire published a first-person narrative online, the bill was taken care of by the hospital.
Brookshire has since become involved with the Ellis County GOP, where she's served for two years, and was able to get a plank passed at the county convention that prioritized the protocol for rape and sexual assault victims.
"I knew I had to start politicking (sic) if I was going to get anything passed," Brookshire advocated.
She then promoted her stance at the state level to get it on the platform, but the temporary sub-committee she was part of voted it down. She later amended another plank that involved 90-day rape kit tests and was able to speak with the legislative priority committee.
"Their response, after I told them my story from what happened, they actually went to the platform committee and spoke on my behalf to make sure my amendment passed," Brookshire detailed. "That was really cool."
Plank 112 is known as Abby's Law.
Brookshire later contacted State Rep. John Wray in the summer of 2018 to detail her story and provide a fact sheet about rape and sexual assault.
"He seemed like he genuinely cared and wanted to help and make this work and I appreciate him for that," Brookshire said.
Together Brookshire and Wray worked to address the lack of information sexual assault victims receive, with a goal to update House Bill 8 during the recently concluded 86th Texas Legislature.
the amendments Wray made to HB 8 included requiring oral notification to the victim that there is no cost for related forensic exam. Secondly, law enforcement officers or medical professionals will provide Standard Information Sheet for Sexual Assault Patients, which details the rights to which a victim is entitled and includes Abby's priories such as the name and number of local rape crisis centers.
"I'm thankful for Ms. Brookshire, who came to my office with the goal of making a difference for her fellow Texans," Wray explained in an email. "Her passion and experience inspired me to file this legislation. After a lot of research, we identified two simple steps, which will create a more accurate and efficient process during a sexual assault report."
Brookshire believes her political push helped her cope with the assault and in the end, "made good out of something bad. I'm the type of person when I have problems I need to find a solution. I can't just sit around and hope it fixes itself. I took it to the next level and decided that this is what I'm going to do for now on."
Gov. Gregg Abbott has since signed Texas House Bill 8 following the 86th
Texas Legislature that extends the statute of limitations for certain sexual offenses for which evidence is collected.
In the future, Brookshire would like to make it mandatory for police to recommend an advocate or lawyer be present with the sexual assault victim during the investigative interview.
Brookshire, now 21, has lived in Midlothian since she was 19. She is currently studying psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"I still deal with a few triggers right now because of the PTSD. I was dealing with a trigger one day and was calming myself down, doing the things my counselor taught me to do, and I thought, 'Man, I'd like to do that for somebody else too.'" she said of her degree choice.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450