Nevada is Harming Rape Victims More than Rapists
By Kimberly Mull
Next week marks eight months since I was violently strangled and raped in my home in South Reno. Like most victims of sexual assault, I knew my perpetrator and had invited him into my home, but like most millennials, I did not know him well before making the invitation. As a survivor of child sex trafficking and a previous sexual assault as an adult, I foolishly thought I had a “radar” for bad guys and had gotten to a place in life, my early thirties, where I was unlikely to be harmed ever again.
As a professional who advocates for sexual assault victims on a state level, I know that assumption is ridiculous, however, as with most people I sometimes forget I am not invincible. However, as a professional in my field, I have found my reaction to this attack to be the most perplexing until I realized it is not my attacker I feel the most damaged by, although he clearly physically and mentally damaged me in many ways, yet it is the State of Nevada and Washoe County I feel the most hurt by.
Not only was I sober (not that I should have to be), but I told him “no,” “stop,” “I do not consent,” and repeatedly “this is rape, you are raping me, please stop raping me,” thinking the power of the words would make him realize the harm his actions were causing me. At one point I started to describe the definition of sexual assault as per Nevada Revised Statute. Clearly, my mind went into work mode as a coping mechanism during the assault.
Throughout the attack, he intermittently pinned me down to the bed by my throat, repeatedly choking me and causing me to lose my ability to breath. As if this wasn’t traumatic enough, he felt the need to continually talk and ask me questions throughout the attack, including “How many times have you been raped before?” and “Are you scared of me?”
As an expert in the field, I knew sexual assault is about power and control for the rapist, not the sex itself. So, although I verbally continued to berate him, I determined my best odds of surviving and not getting hurt were to not physically fight him (I also had a feeding tube in my stomach at this time I was trying to protect from being ripped out), but to let him have physical control, especially considering how easily strangulation can become deadly, so I began to make a mental plan of how to get to my gun in the top of my closet.
After he had finished, he began to talk about how he wished he had invited his friend to come over so he could have had a turn, followed by musings about the “next time” he raped me. This is when I knew I had to get to my closet in case he did invite his friend over. I asked for permission to use the restroom and stopped by my closet on the way, reaching in and struggling to get my gun out of the safety case.
“What are you doing? Getting a gun?” he cheekily asked with a growling laugh.
“Yes.” I replied, as I pulled out my unloaded revolver and pointed it in his direction, “Now get out of my house!” I cried in more explicit terms.
As he gathered his pants and hurriedly ran out of my house, I locked the door behind him and called 9–1–1. One officer came to my house to check on me while others caught him a few blocks away. He was transported to the Reno Police Station and I met there with detectives to explain the assault. While I was there I posted on social media that I had been raped because I never wanted it to become a “he said/she said/she changed her mind” situation. Afterward, I was taken to receive a sexual assault forensic examination, where DNA was collected and I was provided with a handful of drugs to fight off sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. As traumatic as everything was, I was relatively calm because I knew the police had him in custody.
However, that all changed a week later when I was called down to the Washoe County District Attorney’s office to go over my case. I was settled into a small interview room with two investigators and an ADA, who informed me that they had questions about my statement to the police. Specifically, about my statements about choosing not fight back and one quote I told him which was “You do realize that even if you give me an orgasm, you are still raping me, right?” because he began penetrating me with his finger at one point. The ADA was curious if this could have been confused for consent, even though it included the words “you are still raping me” in it. Additionally, my identification as a survivor of child sexual abuse and a former rape which had not been reported at the time gave the ADA “pause.” I was further questioned about my previous sexual assault and how I would testify about it in court.
For the first time in my life I felt safe enough in a place, being part of the sexual assault system in Nevada, to report my assault, and yet it backfired. At the end of the interview, I was told they would be releasing my rapist and the ADA would decide at a later date if she chooses to prosecute him.
From this moment on is when I really began to feel even more victimized by the State of Nevada than my rapist. The state that I have come to love, where I chose to make a home, where I fight for victims of sexual assault on a daily basis, where I testify before the legislature and craft laws relating to sexual assault, has deemed me a less than ideal witness to my own sexual assault. Furthermore, once I began to advocate for my case, I was told by someone involved in my case that the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office has labeled me a “troublemaker.”
If fighting for my right to justice and to keep a rapist, with multiple criminal arrests, off the streets of Reno, makes me a troublemaker, then maybe I am. What I do know, is that as an educated, white, middle-class woman, who is considered by many to be one of the top experts of sexual assault in Nevada, who did everything we tell victims to do: pulled a gun, called 9–1–1, cooperated with police, got a sexual assault exam, and worked with prosecutors, has trouble getting District Attorney Chris Hick’s office to prosecute my case, then we all know they are not prosecuting the rape cases of the college student who was drinking, the single mother who doesn’t speak English, or the prostitute who was raped by a customer.
I wish his office was the only disappointment I found in my experience as a Nevada rape victim the last six month, but sadly it’s not. Nevada’s protection order laws are weak and last only up to one year. Although my rapist told me he would rape me again, I will have to go back to court yearly and convince a judge that I physically and emotionally need a protection order to protect me from him, unless he is eventually prosecuted and jailed. Other states have protection orders that can last 3 or 5 years, even some states have lifetime orders. Most law enforcement and prosecutors don’t even realize there are specific sexual assault protection orders available with harsher penalties for breaking the order. I was first advised to get a domestic violence protection order but thankfully knew better because of my work. However, domestic violence orders are in the system where police can pull up someone’s record to check the order, whereas I must carry my protection order with me 24/7 to prove I have it.
The timeframe to civically sue my rapist isn’t nearly long enough in Nevada, especially if I have to wait for a champion of victims’ rights to be elected district attorney in Washoe County to try and get justice through a criminal trial first. Although I foolishly felt safe enough in Nevada to report my assault, most victims don’t and won’t report their abuse for a number of reasons until years, if not decades later.
If we look at cases such as Bill Cosby, it is evident that women need time to process and get to a place in life where they feel less threatened to bring their stories forward. If the burden of proof by prosecutors is the same, why does Nevada limit the time available for victims at all? Some states do not have a statute of limitations on rape, because they recognize the lifelong harm it does to victims, and if prosecutors can prove a case 60 years after the fact, then victims should still be entitled to justice.
State law requires those arrested for rape be tested for STD’s, so the victim can be informed. However, this isn’t always being done. In my case, my rapist was one of three arrested for rape in 2017 in Washoe County who was not tested. Therefore, I was not only emotionally traumatized by the possibilities but became neurotic about being regularly tested for HIV. Thankfully, with the six-month mark now past and no positive outcomes, I can breathe again.
Although Assemblywoman Benetiz-Thompson, Assemblyman Yeager, and Senator Ford did an amazing job with legislation last session to address the rape kit backlog in the state and put timeframe requirements on future rape kits being tested in a timely manner, trying to get information on your rape kit is nearly impossible. As a victim, I should have the right to know if my kit resulted in a hit of the FBI’s CODIS system and if I was assaulted by a serial rapist. In other states, such as Utah, victims have the right to be informed on several aspects of their case.
In 2003, California passed the “Sexual Assault Victims’ DNA Bill of Rights,” the first law of its kind in the nation. This legislation addresses the issue of the importance of timely DNA analysis of rape kit evidence and provides sexual assault victims with the right to be informed of the status of the testing of their kits and whether or not a match has been identified. In 2013, Texas enacted the second law in the country to give victims the rights to certain information regarding the evidence collection in their case, including the right to receive notice when the evidence is compared to DNA profiles in the database.
Here in Nevada, I have been told I do not have the right to know the results of my sexual assault kit by the District Attorney. They told me it was a confidentiality issue. They then told me to contact Reno PD and see if they can tell me if they have any info. So, although we passed legislation that requires it to be tested in a timely manner and implement a tracking system (which is not up yet) to see if it has been processed, we don’t have a right to know if there has been a match or if our rapist has done this before.
While it may not seem like a big deal to others, for a victim, knowledge about your case’s details feels mentally empowering when you feel someone has stolen your power from you through a physical assault.
Although my roots are southern, my soul is battle born and home really does mean Nevada. Which is why I am so hurt by its failure to protect, defend, and assist victims of sexual assault. Maybe things are better than they have been, but they are nowhere near where they need to be. I can only hope as a state we continue to work towards improving every aspect of the after effects a victim must endure from a rape. However, I am convinced that begins by electing true victims’ rights champions, such as Assemblywoman Tolles, Senator Spearman, and Senator Ford who is running for Attorney General, in order to get us to where we need to be. However, at this point, I would just settle for Washoe County to elect a District Attorney who will actually jail and prosecute rapists.