You don’t really need to know her name. She could be anyone. Male or Female. A 5-year-old child. A 54-year-old adult.
She could live in a three-bedroom brick house or an apartment in Boise City or McAlester. Guymon or Idabel. Tulsa or Oklahoma City.
Or in your home.
Most sexual assault survivors live in the shadows of justice as Terrell did for nearly 30 years, waiting for her rapist to be caught.
Terrell was 23 when she was attacked in Norman, two months after graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1985.
“When someone breaks into your home and rapes you, there is no place that feels safe to you — ever,” she said. “My children will tell you I was a fanatic about making sure the blinds were closed at night. He had stalked me.”
She finally faced her attacker, Robert Howard Bruce, when she was 52 years old. He was sentenced to 177 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple felonies including rape, burglary, sexual battery and sodomy committed against dozens of women between 1985 and 2006.
Bruce was nationally known as the Ether Rapist because he often used chemically-soaked rags to subdue dozens of victims spread across the southwest from New Mexico to Texas.
“He will never get out of out of jail and I’m very grateful,” Terrell said. “There are so few people who get to see their rapist convicted and incarcerated.”
Bruce’s unchecked reign of terror shows how sex offenders in Oklahoma and the nation remain free, able to exploit weaknesses in how sexual assaults are reported, investigated and prosecuted.
A yearlong investigation by The Frontier has examined rape and sexual assaults in Oklahoma, uncovering a war-within-a-war that requires some victims to fight for their own justice while government and private agencies fight for money, personnel and proven training methods to assist victims.
The Frontier conducted more than 70 interviews to put the state’s undeclared rape crisis in perspective.
Our investigation documents how the pleas of women and men who have been sexually assaulted have fallen on deaf ears from the state Capitol all the way to the White House. Their efforts to hold attackers accountable are part of a national trend that has swept up powerful men in Hollywood, Washington and across the nation.
On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet that started an international movement.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Within four days more than 1.3 million tweets and 13 million Facebook posts were shared using the hashtag #MeToo. The previously untold stories spread around the world including England, France and Italy.
On Dec. 6, Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” in the #MeToo movement Person of the Year for 2017. The story features women and men who have spoken out against sexual harassment and assault.
Each year, thousands of rape survivors in Oklahoma, intimidated by victim blaming, physical and financial threats or claims of false allegations, remain silent.
State and national experts agree only 20 to 30 percent of rape survivors report their assaults to law enforcement.
Those statistics have been verified in numerous studies, but there has been no state or national effort to pull all essential entities together — including officials in the military branches, medical boards and college campuses — to render justice.
The dilemma of how sexual assaults are handled in Oklahoma and how the system might be enhanced could be a template for any state.
There is no cohesive statewide approach to investigate sexual assault, so first responders called in after an attack can inadvertently interfere with one another and hamper prosecution.
Attempts to strengthen rape laws have been diluted to appease the fickle nature of leaders in the Legislature. Success, at times, is measured by how little a bill is tampered with, not whether rape victims are protected.
In addition, the military in Oklahoma and across the country have refused for years to release statistics on rapes at individual bases or the details of court martials.
Oklahoma medical boards also do not have to alert law enforcement or the public when they are investigating complaints of sexual assaults or rapes.
Over the next five days, The Frontier will detail how politics, the inconsistent handling of rape reports, failure to adequately train first responders and to fund critical programs have created a system of piecemeal prosecution allowing predators to remain free.
Victims who have been abused, harassed and raped are forced to hide in the shadows.
From 2011 to 2016, Oklahoma experienced a stunning 46 percent increase in reported rapes.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater called Oklahoma’s increase in rape statistics “horrific” but added, “I think they are probably low.”
“As I walk through my career as a cop and now as a prosecutor, what is surprising to me when we are in jury selections on any type of a case, we ask people ‘Have you ever been a victim of a crime?’” he said.
“I am amazed at how many women raise their hands saying they may have been molested as a child or raped as an adult. And then also the number we find after jury selection who were too ashamed to admit it.”
Rape reports in Oklahoma have risen dramatically.
Last year, Oklahomans reported 2,134 forcible and attempted rapes, up more than 9.5 percent from the previous year.
Some speculate that attacks have increased.
Advocacy groups believe the spike in reports is due to increased awareness from their training with nurses, police and prosecutors on how to work with traumatized victims.
In addition, the original definition of rape by the federal reporting system was updated in 2013 to cover more crimes. It also added males as victims for the first time.
Each year, more than 370 law enforcement agencies send crime data, including rape statistics, to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The numbers are then transferred to the FBI to be part of the national Uniform Crime Report.
The OSBI defines rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus, with any body part or object or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent from the victim.”
Expanding the definition has still not drawn out the majority of victims.
“When you look at increased numbers in Oklahoma, you have to keep in mind that only 10 to 30 percent report,” said Amanda Kemp, director of forensic exams for the YWCA in Oklahoma City.
“I tell nurses at the hospital, ‘For every victim you see, there are seven to nine others who aren’t there.’ Even when celebrities come forward, they are often not believed,” she said. “How do you think it affects the victims in Oklahoma who are afraid to report?”
Prater agreed. “When you understand the breadth and gravity of sexual assault, when you find out how bad it really is in this state, how many adults and young boys and young girls truly are victimized, it’s just devastating, astounding, amazing, and disheartening.”
"...it’s just devastating, astounding, amazing and disheartening.” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater
Various national studies place the overall reporting range at 1-in-5 to 1-in-6 victims, according to Kim Lonsway, research director for End Violence Against Women International. Lonsway is recognized as one of the country’s experts on sexual assault research and training.
“At its root, we don’t want to think that rape happens as much as it does,” Lonsway said. “There is no single study that has the answer, but the evidence is clear. It’s vastly underreported.”
However, other OSBI statistics underscore a major breakdown in the system: Two in three reported rapes never make it to court. The clearance rate — basically those arrested on rape allegations in Oklahoma — hovers around 30 percent.
That does not mean 30 percent end up in a courtroom.
Oklahoma does not break down the data. No one knows how many charges are dropped for insufficient evidence, or because a victim is overwhelmed and withdraws a report. There are also no statewide figures breaking out the number of accused who go to trial or prison or walk away.
Using the highest numbers in multiple studies: 30 percent of victims report and only 30 percent of their perpetrators may be arrested.
Why are the figures so low?
Rep. Ben Loring’s voice breaks when he recalls prosecuting a father who sexually abused his 4-year-old daughter in Ottawa County.
“She was the youngest victim who went to jury trial. She was 6 when she testified,” said Loring, D-Miami.
The father was convicted. Afterwards, “I told her what had happened and tried to explain, although I knew it was beyond her comprehension,” Loring said. “When I got through all she said was, ‘You mean they believed me?’”
The former prosecutor knew how to talk to the little girl, but he may be the exception.
Victims can fall prey to overworked nurses, police and prosecutors in rural counties who do not have the time, training or manpower to thoroughly investigate. And their cases die.
Prater and others insist that too many police officers and prosecutors lack the special skills needed to draw out details from fragile survivors whether they be 4 or 84 years old, which compromises prosecution.
“The victim’s brain has gone into flight, fight or freeze mode. Their memories are stored differently,” Prater said. “The only thing their body is really paying attention to and focusing on is what they need to do to live through the incident.”
Gary Stansill has worked as an investigator for district attorneys covering Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties for six years. He previously investigated child abuse and sexual assaults for 35 years with the Tulsa Police Department.
“Victims are making inconsistent statements because of the trauma. That leads an officer to label the report false,” Stansill said. “Then the victim sees that the officer doesn’t believe her and she is out of there.”
In addition, some officers simply don’t know the intricacies of the law.
"A lot of law enforcement throw up their hands and say, ‘It’s he-said, she-said and I can’t prove it." Gary Stansill, investigator for district attorneys.
Stansill recounts an instance in which a woman escaped from her attacker and fled to another county. She was bleeding rectally and suffered extensive bruising. Relatives summoned the police, who told her she would have to return to the county where she was attacked to file a report.
“If I go back there he’ll kill me,” the victim sobbed.
Stansill is adamant that the police officer erred. “The point is that victims have rights. He should have taken a report. It doesn’t make any difference if she came from Alaska,” he said. “She should also have been offered a free medical exam. The officer failed her.
“A lot of law enforcement throw up their hands and say, ‘It’s he-said, she-said and I can’t prove it,’” Stansill said. “They give up too easy. There are a lot of ways to make those cases.”
The failure to sustain an extensive statewide training program specifically for sexual assault cases also leads to fewer prosecutions.
The Legislature has consistently cut funds to the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) since 2010. The agency, which is critical to annually updating police training practices, has faced a nearly 33 percent reduction, marginally offset by other funds.
CLEET’s appropriated budget has shrunk from $4.3 million to $3.1 million over seven years. Since 2008, the agency has been required by law to provide six hours of evidence-based sexual assault and sexual violence training.
“There is a money issue. When you have a dollar need and are given a quarter, that just doesn’t work,” Prater said. “That’s where we are in this state.”
Kenneth Elmore, an assistant district attorney for Tulsa County who oversees the Special Victims Unit, recognizes prosecutors can be overwhelmed in rural areas trying to investigate complex rape reports.
“Tulsa has more resources available than the smaller counties. When you are talking about three attorneys handling everything, they can’t always do it well,” Elmore said. “They don’t have the personnel to dedicate solely to these types of cases.”
Tulsa has benefited from having a seasoned group of police, prosecutors and a group known as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).
Not all nurses in the state have access to the same ongoing training guidelines on sexual assault exams as the SANE nurses. There is no overarching agency that sets the rules for the intensive sexual assault exams.
“We used to have a state protocol but it got outdated,” said Kathy Bell, forensic nursing administrator with the Tulsa Police Department. She is past president of the International Association of Forensic Nurses.
“Then it was not really taken on by different agencies. There was just no ownership by any group or task force. It fell by the wayside.”
The $360,000, three-year federal grant was not renewed this year and there is no longer a state SANE coordinator.
“Over the next year we will not be overseeing, developing or expanding SANE programs,” Bell said. “That is a problem.”
Stansill also said the loss of rural funding leaves a major vacuum.
“There have been times before the grants that some rape victims have had to drive from Hugo to Tulsa to get an exam,” he said. “Police in those areas couldn’t find a nurse to do the exam. Without this grant, victims will suffer.”
"Police in those areas couldn’t find a nurse to do the exam. Without this grant, victims will suffer." Gary Stansill, investigator for district attorneys.
When victims go to a hospital, the SANE exam is free. They are not required to file a police report, Assistant District Attorney Elmore explained.
“A woman cannot be forced or compelled to participate. We want them aware there is a medical option to make sure that they are OK,” he said. “We can preserve some of that evidence, so if they change their mind, they can come forward later.”
Many victims are torn between facing an emotionally difficult trial or returning home and restarting their lives. They tell Elmore, “I want this to go away, but I don’t ever want him to do this to somebody else.”
Tulsa has kept all kits since 2007 containing evidence where victims didn’t file a report in case they change their minds.
But over the years, some police departments have thrown them away after 90 days.
There is no law requiring law enforcement to retain or test all rape kits.
A rape case involving a 12-year-old girl who became pregnant after being attacked epitomizes the cruelty many victims endure.
Rep. Loring prosecuted the case when he was district attorney in Ottawa County.
The girl’s enraged father declared, “As punishment for getting knocked up, she’s going to have to raise that baby.”
Years later, Loring is still incensed. “What kind of chance does this kid have in the world if this is nothing but a punishment?”
“When somebody gets robbed, we don’t say to them, ‘Well why did you have something in your house worth robbing?’” Jan Peery CEO of the YWCA in Oklahoma City
Victim blaming, which causes reports to be withheld or withdrawn, is a major hindrance to reporting an attack.
It is not unusual for victims to refuse to file a police report after a medical exam, fearing they will be ostracized.
“If you are on drugs or drinking, you are less likely to report,” Lonsway said, “If you are more stereotypical and not doing those things, the more quickly you report it.”
Victims are often barraged with insensitive questions that make them feel guilty.
“Why was she drinking? Why was she there? What was she wearing? It’s all the victim’s fault,” said Jan Peery CEO of the YWCA in Oklahoma City.
“When somebody gets robbed, we don’t say to them, ‘Well why did you have something in your house worth robbing?’”
Peery’s organization partners with law enforcement and prosecutors to provide a variety of resources, including medical exams and housing for victims of sexual assaults and domestic violence.
“We need to tell society why victims do not report,” Peery said. “They don’t report because they are the ones who get crucified.”
Those less likely to report include men, children, college students, nursing home residents, military members, spouses, prostitutes and homeless people.
Even when victims find the courage to come forward, trials may not start on an even playing field. Jurors may be biased about false reporting.
“When most people hear a disclosure of sexual assault, there is a knee-jerk assumption that it is false until proven true,” Lonsway said. “There is a belief that people lie about this all the time which is absolutely inexplicable to me. All that does is hurt you.
“Legitimate studies find false reporting in a 2 to 8 percent range.”
Kevin McDugle is a former Marine-turned state lawmaker who recently revealed a secret he had been hiding since he was 15.
In March, the Broken Arrow representative publicly announced for the first time he was molested by a youth minister.
McDugle said he was invited to stay overnight with friends at the minister’s house and was surprised when the others eventually left. “It’s just me and him. He took me to his bedroom, put on a movie that wasn’t appropriate and started touching me.
He did not tell his parents or anyone until he was an adult.
The experience shattered his self-image. “I went into the Marine Corps. I served three combat tours. I became a Marine drill instructor and I still had a hard time dealing with that. Are you a man? Are you man enough?”
“I finally got to a point in my 40s where I knew, ‘Hey, it wasn’t my fault,’” said McDugle, now 50.
McDugle disclosed his assault publicly for the first time during the 2017 legislative session. He was determined to win support for two bills to extend the age child sexual assault victims can file criminal and civil cases against their predators.
Male victims of sexual assault were added to the national crime report in 2013. National studies show 3 to nearly 5 percent of males will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.
McDugle, who considers himself “an extremely conservative guy,” faced some blistering rebukes when the bills were introduced.
“I got a lot of pushback from the extreme right because they just don’t want to see anybody go to jail for anything,” he said. “I’m for limited government in a big way. I’m for the protection of the innocent in a big way as well.”
Although Oklahoma has reached an all-time high in rape reports, the numbers would climb if all institutions were included in the statistics.
Fourteen Oklahoma law enforcement agencies sent partial statistics or failed to report crime data for the 2016 OSBI report. That “greatly hampers” the program, OSBI stated.
The military has its own court-martial system. Those numbers are not folded into the OSBI data.
The Fort Sill Army base in Lawton oversees 52,700 civilians, National Guard, military and working contractors, making it the largest military installation in the state. The population is larger than Stillwater, Enid and Muskogee.
Fort Sill has repeatedly denied requests by The Frontier for sexual assault statistics. The Frontier obtained a report listing allegations at Fort Sill and on military bases around the world from the U.S. Department of Defense. The report was released in the midst of a heated national discussion about sexual assault.
From 2013 to 2016, there were 273 cases of sexual assault reported at Fort Sill. Because victims can choose where and when to report assaults, some of those attacks could have occurred at other bases.
Of the 273 reported sexual assaults at Fort Sill during those fiscal years, 222 were unrestricted and 51 were restricted. They include victims 16 and older.
An unrestricted report means the file is referred for investigation to the Military Criminal Investigative Organization or a civilian law enforcement agency.
Alternatively, a victim may make a restricted report to certain parties such as victim advocates or health care providers, keeping reports confidential. Those reports are not sent for investigation.
In September, the Army charged Capt. Scott Hockenberry with three counts of rape and three counts of assault by battery against a woman he formerly dated. She was a civilian attorney at the base and a reserve Army officer.
Hockenberry was a judge advocate officer specially selected as one of 24 in the country to lead criminal prosecutions of sexual assault, family violence and child abuse in the military.
The charges state the woman was forced into sexual acts and that Hockenberry held a knife to her throat once and physically assaulted her twice. Hockenberry pleaded not guilty.
The woman was granted a protective order in August 2016 by the Army. Hockenberry was transferred to Washington D.C. A preliminary hearing is being held to determine whether he will face a court martial.
“They have special scrutiny because the accused was assigned to prosecute sex crimes and was hand-picked by the judge advocate general,” said the woman’s attorney, Robert Don Gifford.
Attorney William Helixon represents Hockenberry. “My client adamantly denies any acts were non-consensual,” he said.
In addition to rapes involving adults working on the base, members of Fort Sill have faced sexual assault involving children and soldiers.
While it released base-by-base number on adults for the first time, the military still refused to release data on prosecutions involving sexual attacks against children.
In May 2014, Pfc. H. Cohen Baker was convicted in a court martial of committing a sexual act with a girl between 12 and 16 and possessing child pornography. Baker did not receive jail time and was not required to forfeit pay. He was reduced to the lowest rank and received a bad conduct discharge, records show.
The Oklahoman reported Baker was “at least the sixth soldier to be convicted of child sexual abuse in two years.”
In May, Staff Sgt. Casey West pleaded guilty to five counts of rape of a child and eight counts of sexual abuse of a child.
West was certified as a sexual assault prevention officer and served as the U.S. Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Representative to the 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
A judge sentenced him to 56 years in prison plus reduction to the lowest rank and dishonorable discharge. His sentence was eventually reduced to 15 years.
In a statement to The Frontier, Keith Pannell, media relations chief at the Fort Sill Public Affairs Office, said: “Sexual assault has no place in the military. It runs counter to Army Values and can harm unit readiness.”
The military is not the only entity whose sexual assault reports are not automatically shared with the public.
Oklahoma’s two medical boards were flagged last year for lax reporting laws involving sex crimes in a national investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Oklahoma was among the five worst in the nation. Other states in the bottom five were Utah, Louisiana, Wyoming and Mississippi.
Among the reasons for the low rankings:
● Oklahoma’s medical boards are not required by law to alert law enforcement when a doctor has committed a crime.
● State law does not mandate that doctors report crimes by other doctors to law enforcement.
The Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision monitors physicians and surgeons. Disciplinary records can be found on the medical board’s website including dates of suspension, probation and license revocation.
But it was not until February that the board’s website detailed what doctors did to violate board rules or Oklahoma law. Last year, 27 of the 650 complaints involved sexual misconduct, said Board spokesman Reji Varghese.
This year, those numbers increased. Thirty-five of 593 complaints involved sexual misconduct, as of Dec. 1.
The board works on an honor system when it comes to alerting police of potential crimes. It is not required by law. Varghese said the board “often” notifies law enforcement of doctors’ violations.
Doctors must report violations to the board committed by their peers, not by Oklahoma law, only by board regulations. However, doctors rarely tell on one another.
Of the complaints filed against Oklahoma medical doctors in 2017, only three — or .4 percent — were from another doctor.
Hospitals alert the medical board only if certain actions are taken against a doctor, such as a suspension of more than 30 days. “Sometimes it can be an issue because we might not know on a timely basis,” Varghese said. “It might be a year or later.”
When a hospital does take action against a doctor, it contacts the National Practitioner Data Bank, but does not share the doctors’ name with the public.
The Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners regulates osteopathic physicians.
That board posts the names of doctors disciplined in the past five years on its website. But it does not list what board regulations or laws they violated.
Deborah Bruce, executive director of the Osteopathic Board, said it will add the reasons for disciplinary actions in early 2018.
The board does not track the type of complaints it receives, but Bruce said two osteopathic doctors have been disciplined for sexual misconduct during the last 10 years.
Hospital sanctions against doctors aren’t included on either board’s website.
“We rarely get that information. That’s all protected,” Bruce said. “I’ve even gone to court to try to get some of that stuff. When there are human resources issues involving the doctor, they close those records. We can go to court to try to get them, but we’re mostly out of luck.”
Unlike the military and medical boards, Oklahoma colleges have strict reporting requirements on sexual assault incidents.
However, Oklahoma colleges have been facing federal scrutiny for the way they handle sexual assault reports.
From 2013 to 2016, a combined 119 sexual assaults were reported at five of the largest schools in the state.
John Foubert, a professor at Oklahoma State University, is considered a national expert on sexual assault reporting. He specializes in researching colleges and the military.
“If you know general averages, things that are way, way outside of that should ring an alarm bell,” he said. “I would expect the actual rate in Oklahoma to be nine times higher.”
A 2015-2016 survey at the University of Tulsa revealed more than half of the students who said they had been sexually assaulted kept the attack to themselves, saying they were too ashamed.
“It’s scary,” Phippen said. “They’re intoxicated. They wake up in a strange apartment. The humiliation. It’s a small campus and with social media, people say horrible things.”
Oklahoma has no master plan to improve or fund a system struggling to increase rape prosecutions and bring justice to a growing list of rape survivors.
But there are successes along the way.
“Our clearance rate by stats may not be huge, but we get huge prosecutions,” Phippen said. “A lot of time we get life or life without parole.”
In July, her unit helped convict Shawn Conrad Freeman, known as the Admiral Street Rapist. He was found guilty of four counts of first-degree rape, four counts of kidnapping, five counts of sodomny and one count of robbery.
“We got 365 years,” Phippen said. “How amazing is that?”
Assistant District Attorney Elmore is encouraged by the Legislature’s approval of several bills over the last two years. They include a first-ever definition of consent and what force means in sexual assaults: “Any force, no matter how slight, to accomplish the act without the victim’s consent.”
New legislation also upgraded the definition and penalties for rape by instrumentation. It was the result of a case in Tulsa County that drew national outrage.
Previously, in a rape-by-instrumentation case, the attacker could only be charged with first-degree rape if there was also an injury. “That is pretty barbaric. It’s disgusting and insulting,” Elmore said. “It seemed like a no-brainer to expand the law and represent the values of 2017 Oklahoma.”
“I think our biggest issues have been just an inconsistency from one jurisdiction to another." Sen. AJ Griffin
Elmore was surprised at the negative reaction when the amendment was proposed. “We got a decent amount of pushback on it.”
Legislators dealing with overcrowded prisons wanted to send these inmates to treatment centers.
Elmore made it clear: “There are people you want to get treatment – drug addicts and alcoholics – and there are people you want to put in prison. Rapists belong in prison.”
Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, believes the entire process for handling sexual assaults needs to be streamlined.
“I think our biggest issues have been just an inconsistency from one jurisdiction to another. What happens in Oklahoma City is so different than what may happen in a rural area,” she said. “It’s certainly not a perfect system.”
Griffin would like to see proactive programs such as mandated sexual abuse prevention programs for younger students. “A lot of our efforts have been focused on the backend instead of focusing on preventing it in the first place,” she said.
Prater suggests a statewide best practices study for all entities involved in rape and sexual assault cases.
That would mean examining long-term policies in other states that have turned low rape convictions around and then upgrading procedures in Oklahoma.
“We are in a critical point right now,” he said. “It’s tragic.”
Peery of the YWCA hones in on the intangibles — stigma and cultural bias.
“I think it’s a crime that we’ve swept under the carpet. When we look at the trauma, people still do not comprehend it. Rape is about power and control. It is not about sex.
“And we are still struggling with addressing that in Oklahoma.”
Reporters: Mary Hargrove and Kassie McClung | Photos: Shane Bevel and Dylan Goforth | Data and design: Kassie McClung
This story is part one in a five-part series. Click on the “Shadow Land” logo to go to the series landing page.
Part Two: The Legislature passed a bill to help child sexual assault victims file charges later in life, but a little-known, last-minute change produced a national uproar and left legislators scrambling to undo the damage.
“And with that, every lawyer and judge, not only in Oklahoma but across the country, starts blowing up my phone.” — Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa.