Danielle Tudor wandered through the halls of the White House looking for Vice President Mike Pence’s office. She had passed through three areas with armed security and bomb-sniffing dogs.
“I found myself in a massive hallway with no idea where to go,” she said. “It didn’t appear that the doors were marked and I wasn’t about to open one.”
She was supposed to meet with members of Pence’s staff that day, March 21, to discuss April’s “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.”
As a rape survivor and staunch Republican living in Oklahoma, Tudor felt she could make a strong pitch for a compelling media promotion by the White House over the next few weeks.
After a man on the elevator directed her to the wrong building, Tudor finally called Sarah Makin, from Pence’s office, who escorted her upstairs. Tudor met with several people Makin brought together for the discussion.
“I shared my personal story, my interest in the issue,” Tudor told The Frontier. “I told them there needs to be something that encourages survivors, especially when the last imprint on this issue is the video on the bus which I think shocked everyone.”
She was referring to a 2005 video of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women as he talked with Billy Bush on an “Access Hollywood” bus. The video was released by The Washington Post shortly before last year’s presidential election.
As they walked out, Makin suggested they might include Tudor in a press conference with the president and vice president. Tudor sent follow-up emails to the White House, but was never told if there would be a special event.
The White House issued a two-page press release March 31, noting there are 300,000 rapes and sexual assaults each year. It asked the public “to encourage respect for women and children.”
That was all. There were no major media moments bringing rape victims to the forefront.
Tudor swallowed her disappointment and moved ahead. She needed to focus on a much bigger battle in Oklahoma City where she was trying to get two bills for rape survivors passed.
The first bill would create a 17-member task force to determine the number of untested rape kits in police departments across the state, find funding for the tests, and decide how to test kits in the future.
The second bill outlined a rape survivor’s rights, including the ability to consult confidentially with a victim advocate, receive the results of forensic evidence and have a free medical exam even if he or she did not want charges filed.
Tudor would spend five months wandering through the state Capitol — similar to her winding trip through the White House — trying to navigate a political process, and at times, feeling lost.
Though she was assured her bills were moving forward, all were scuttled before they reached their House committee hearings. One bill was salvaged by the governor at the last minute with a rare executive order involving a pending bill.
What happened to Tudor at the White House and the Oklahoma Capitol is emblematic of how women across the country are treated by men in power when women have fought for better treatment for rape and sexual assault victims.
Tudor joins other sexual assault survivors who have struggled to pass stronger rape and sexual assault laws through the Legislature this year.
“There are many times when I lie awake at night in the dark, thinking ‘What am I doing? I can’t do this.’ It never stops costing me everything.” Danielle Tudor
Their lifeblood and tears flow beneath the words on every page. They are survivors whose fight is passionate, public and painful.
They are the exceptions.
There are an estimated 21 to 25 million rape and sexual assault victims in the United States. Rape is a vastly underreported crime.
“Our best guess is no more than 1-in-5 to 1-in-6 report,” said Kim Lonsway, research director for End Violence Against Women International.
The majority of victims are telling no one. “No one is safe to tell.”
The reticence of victims of sexual assault to go public became widely publicized after accusations against high-profile celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein surfaced.
The recent social media #MeToo campaign resulted in more than 1.3 million Tweets within four days and 13 million Facebook posts. The outpouring exposed the secret shame and fears held by celebrities as well as thousands of other victims — office workers, waitresses and people from all walks of life — who suddenly felt empowered to share their stories.
Stories of once-secret assaults and harassment soon spread to virtually every sector of American life. The stories went global as victims emerged in France, England and Italy.
On Dec. 6, Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” in the #MeToo movement Person of the Year for 2017. The story features men and women who have spoken out against sexual harassment and assault.
Tudor’s quest this year to audit and test rape kits and increase victims’ rights was partially lost in the fiery backlash of partisan politics and personal grudges. Her battle occasionally put the 55-year-old Tudor at odds with legislators and other advocates.
“I am a strong-willed, strong-headed individual. If I can use my story to bring change for the next victim to have a chance at justice, then I am willing to do that,” Tudor said.
But, she admits, she sometimes feels isolated. “There are many times when I lie awake at night in the dark, thinking ‘What am I doing? I can’t do this.’ It never stops costing me everything.”
The girl, perhaps 18, brushed past Tudor in the narrow hallway of the Tulsa hospital. It was obvious she had been crying.
“She held a clothing bag and what she was wearing was clearly not hers,” Tudor said.
Tudor had just left the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Office and the image of the young victim stayed with her long after she had driven home.
“I wish everybody could see what I just saw,” she said. “That’s the problem. You don’t see the victims.”
Tudor became an exception. She lived in the shadows of her assault for three decades, finally emerging in a way she could never imagine.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Tudor didn’t mind being alone in her home, but she always had to have a light on.
“I was afraid of what might be lurking the darkness, which drove my brothers and sisters crazy,” she said.
On the night of Nov. 11, 1979, the 17-year-old high school senior sat in the den with her poodle, Susu, in a suburb of Portland. She was watching the movie “The King And I,” when a man kicked in the door from the garage into the house.
“We just locked eyes,” Tudor recalled. She saw his face clearly. He wasn’t wearing a mask.
He turned and ran back into the garage while she raced upstairs to her parents’ bedroom and frantically called the police. The dispatcher assured her the police were on their way and not to worry because it was just a burglar and he was gone.
But the intruder returned minutes later. This time, his face was covered and he brandished a stick. The police couldn’t find her house.
No one came to save her.
Tudor was raped and beaten by Richard Troy Gillmore, who became known as the Jogger Rapist. Police suspected he had raped more than 100 girls and women.
As she lay sobbing on the floor, she appealed to God: “I don’t see my future. I don’t see my life anymore. I don’t know that I can handle this. If you help me get through this, I will help other rape victims.”
She married Gary Tudor, had two children, and started a house cleaning company. On the outside she appeared normal, but her innocence had been shattered.
Tudor kept her rape a secret, not even confiding in her grown sons.
“Something died. I was just trying to survive in my own little world. There was no one to talk to,” she said. “I was just this little person, all alone in there.”
A sexual assault victim constantly relives the terror.
“When you hear a strange noise and it wakes you up, you associate the noise with the intruder,” Tudor said. “You think, ‘What could I have done that would have changed the outcome?’”
In 2008, when she learned Gillmore might be released from prison, she stepped out of her safety zone and was interviewed by Portland’s newspaper, The Oregonian.
Tudor began to cobble the pieces of her broken spirit together. She took the first steps to keep her promise to help other rape victims become soul survivors.
She helped pass laws in Oregon strengthening victims’ rights to speak more than three minutes when their attackers came up for parole.
Tudor worked to lengthen the statute of limitations to file criminal charges. When she had been raped, prosecutors had only three years to file charges. Now, under certain conditions, the time is unlimited.
She testified against Gillmore during his pardon and parole hearings in 2010 and 2012. She was the only victim to see his face and a sketch she provided led to his capture. He will be released from prison in 2023.
“Until the 2012 testimony, I had not opened up on the inside,” she said. “It helped me be more transparent.”
State and national advocacy groups asked Tudor to tell her story in places like Idaho, Ohio and New York City. She has been interviewed on TV and in newspapers, including the New York Times.
She became a speaker for the National Crime Victim Law Institute in Portland and RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which bills itself as the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country.
When Tudor pressed for reform in Oregon, she began working with The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Mariska Hargitay, who stars in the TV show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
The foundation provides programs for rape and sexual assault survivors and has developed the End The Backlog campaign to identify untested rape kits. Thousands of rape kits from Texas to Florida to Maryland have been analyzed.
In Ohio, 12,000 older kits have been tested since 2011, producing 4,367 hits in the national Combined DNA Index System.
“Danielle is a go-getter. She does whatever it takes to make things happen,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for Joyful Heart in New York City. “She is fairly unique. She’s made that bridge from survivor to advocate and now activist, all three of those things in one person.”
Tudor moved from Oregon to Oklahoma in the fall of 2016. Her parents were born and raised in Oklahoma and her son had attended Oral Roberts University, remaining in Tulsa to raise his family.
She sought a legacy for her 4-year-old granddaughter: to protect her from predators in Oklahoma.
“I want to give sexual assault victims something that gives hope for the future so it doesn’t define what you become and what you do,” Tudor said. “If it does, the offender wins. I want survivors to win.”
Politics and her status as an outspoken outsider proved to be major barriers.
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee, Criminal Justice and Corrections at the time, blocked the bills. The Sexual Assault Victims’ Right To Information Act was pulled minutes before it could be heard in his committee.
The bill creating a rape kit audit task force passed the Senate unanimously, but was never heard before Biggs’ Judiciary committee. Gov. Mary Fallin made it an executive order, the only bill she rescued this year.
“You get your moment when you are on the mountaintop and celebrating and looking at all the hard work. It is very exhilarating, even if it’s just the one bill, to take that first step,” Tudor said. “That is a big moment to share your story.”
Minutes after Tudor ended her celebratory speech at a press conference announcing the executive order, she and Biggs clashed.
“Those mountain tops are big moments that keep you going in the low moments,” she said. “And there are a whole lot of low moments.”
Tudor and Biggs were supposed to be allies, not adversaries.
If anybody would be perfect to carry a bill involving rape and sexual assault, it would be the former prosecutor from Grady County.
Biggs has championed numerous victim-friendly bills such as Marsy’s Law. That measure, approved this year, is a proposed state constitutional amendment guaranteeing crime victims a broad range of rights including being informed of hearing dates and participating in parole hearings. Voters will consider whether to approve the measure on a statewide ballot in November 2018.
Biggs helped strengthen human trafficking laws to protect underage victims. He also worked on the first laws defining consent and what force means in sexual assault. The former prosecutor-turned lawmaker also upgraded the definition of rape by instrumentation and increased the penalties.
“We worked pretty closely with Scott Biggs,” said Kenneth Elmore, director of the Special Victims Unit for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.
“He is someone we believe is very responsive and very open to ensuring that rape victims are given not only the appropriate representation in the law, but the right protections.”
Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and a former legislator. He applauds Biggs’ advocacy efforts, but challenges his tactics when opposed.
“Rep. Biggs has one of the worst tempers in the Capitol building. It’s well known,” Dorman said. “When you have childish behavior that trumps doing your job and doing policy it’s a shame. The people of Oklahoma suffer when people have temper tantrums.”
“Rep. Biggs has one of the worst tempers in the Capitol building. It’s well known." Joe Dorman
Ryan Gentzler, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, followed Biggs’ actions with the Criminal Justice Reform bills that Biggs blocked in the final days of the Legislature, despite pleas from the governor.
“I think Rep. Biggs is a particularly stubborn legislator and he, for whatever reason, feels pretty empowered to follow his gut,” Gentzler said. “I don’t think it’s the same for all legislators.”
Biggs did not return repeated requests by The Frontier for comment.
A year before moving to Oklahoma, Tudor began meeting with an array of potential supporters, to discuss what happened in Oregon and how rape and sexual assault laws could be strengthened here.
“There was a concern moving to Oklahoma and starting over. Coming out of nowhere, what would I be able to do?” Tudor said.
On June 18, 2016, she reached out to Biggs in an email describing her work with the Portland Police Bureau’s Rape Kit Backlog task force. She asked for his support for an Oklahoma bill on untested rape kits.
“I am interested in helping, and being a primary author on this issue,” Biggs replied.
Tudor emailed him a month later to be sure he had not changed his mind.
“Myself and Senator Griffin are still planning on running the bill at this time,” Biggs responded. “I know you are trying to talk to a lot of people and I commend your passion for the issue, however, there are some groups and individuals who we do not need to have involved in this issue if you want it to pass smoothly.”
After that, Biggs stopped answering her emails and phone calls about sponsoring the bills, Tudor said.
“Rep. Biggs was the biggest surprise,” Tudor said. “I felt betrayed by him and I don’t know why. He should have sent me an email saying he didn’t want to author the bill.”
Finally in November 2016, Tudor met with Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, and asked for their help. In response, Floyd met with law enforcement, district attorneys and advocacy groups in her office — anyone who might be impacted by the bills.
“That generated a lot of ideas on how to do it. By the time we got to the bills, we had the momentum and everyone acknowledged what we could do to work together,” Floyd said.
Griffin agreed. “Rape kit testing is a large problem to get a handle on. Our systems are only as good as the law enforcement controlling them and the tools we make available to them.”
The group discussed concerns that would be raised during the session. No one knows how many untested rape kits exist. No law requires law enforcement to retain all rape kits or to test them and compare the DNA to databases.
Rape kits gather dust on shelves or are destroyed when frightened or embarrassed victims decline to press charges or prosecutors decline to file them.
The average cost to test a kit is $1,000 to $1,500. The state, facing a severe budget crisis, has no money to test kits that could be decades old, but can apply for federal testing grants.
Sgt. Jillian Phippen heads the Tulsa Police Department sex crimes unit, investigating assaults on victims 14 and older.
Tulsa police do not have a backlog of current rape kits waiting to be tested. They send the kits that fit their criteria to the lab to be tested within five days. The tests are completed within 45 to 60 days, Phippen said.
There are an estimated 4,000 kits in TPD’s inventory and no one is sure how many of the older kits have been tested.
Karla Docter is senior officer of sexual violence prevention and response for the YWCA in Oklahoma City. She believes testing older kits and entering them into the national crime DNA database will catch serial rapists.
“We know that perpetrators often don’t just commit one rape. A small population of individuals actually commit this type of crime. Those that do it, do it frequently,” she said.
But the high cost of testing the kits and the large number of victims who refuse to file charges are factors.
The 389 sex crimes investigated in Tulsa in 2016 resulted in 254 rape kits. Only 71 were tested.
In Oklahoma City, 490 rapes and sexual assaults were investigated last year. Out of 295 rape kits, only 99 were tested.
“A huge amount of our cases involve victims who don’t cooperate and don’t want charges filed,” Phippen said. “We follow up with them. We call, we mail them letters and let them know the case can be reopened any time. But we don’t test kits without the victim’s consent.”
Tulsa and Oklahoma City Police generally do not test kits if they believe they know who the alleged offender is. “If it is a spouse or a boyfriend and everyone is agreeing they were there, we usually have no reason to pay for the testing,” Phippen said.
"These are real people. They are not just numbers" Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City
Tudor was unflinching in her belief that all rape kits, even older ones, have value. “Why are we asking victims to have a rape kit done if we’re not going to test the evidence we’ve asked them to have taken from their body, which is the crime scene?
“It’s the bullet casing of the crime scene. Simply put: a rape kit is evidence. Survivors trust law enforcement to test it and have a chance for justice,” she said.
Floyd and Griffin co-authored Senate Bill 654 creating a joint legislative task force to audit and analyze the backlog of rape kits.
Floyd’s study group also discussed the Sexual Assault Victims’ Right to Information Act. Floyd sponsored a version in the Senate, Senate Bill 208, while Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, was eager to author the House version, House Bill 1873.
“We want to make sure there is a standard across the state. You should be able to go get your rape kit, your police report, get an exam done and have a representative with you,” Munson said.
“These are real people. They are not just numbers. They are women and men and also young boys and girls. We need to make sure they feel protected enough to get up and say, ‘This is what happened to me. What are the steps I need to take?’”
Munson, a Democrat, turned to Biggs, a Republican, for help.
“I felt hopeful in the beginning of the session. I watched Rep. Biggs and the bills he worked on and I thought we could work together on victims’ issues. It is something he is passionate about. I worked with him in the past and have great respect for him.”
But on March 1, Biggs sent her an email. When she went to his office, she said he claimed he had been bad-mouthed by Democrats. And he was killing her bill.
Munson had shepherded her victims’ information rights bill to the detriment of her other bills, working closely with Biggs so there would be no last-minute glitches.
The bill was slated to be heard on March 1. Tudor drove from Tulsa to attend the hearing on the bill she helped write.
“Fifteen minutes before committee, I get an email from Rep. Biggs saying, ‘Can you come to my office,’” Munson said.
Biggs was angry. “’There’s something going on and I’ve been given permission to cut your bill because people in your caucus are calling me a liar and saying all these things,’” Munson said he told her.
Munson said he complained that House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, and Joe Dorman, a former House Democrat who ran for governor, had been critical of him.
Dorman had recently berated Biggs on a radio talk show discussing criminal justice reform. He said he was responding to things BIggs said about him previously on that show.
Munson said her bill became collateral damage.
“I appreciate you,” Munson recalls Biggs telling her, “but this bill and you are in the middle of it.”
Dorman was appalled. “I apologized profusely to her. I had no idea he was going to come back and punish her,” he said. “She was the victim of bullying by somebody who had an authority position.”
Inman also was incensed. “Joe and I were both critical of Biggs because he was standing in the way of common sense criminal justice reform and we were vocal in our opposition to his position on that.
“He decided he was going to exact his revenge on any Democrat’s bill and that included Cyndi Munson’s victims of sexual assault bill,” Inman said.
Inman would resign in October and drop out of the governor’s race.
Karla Docter of the YWCA was at the Capitol to support the bill. “I was waiting, waiting, waiting and Cyndi Munson’s assistant brought me up to her office and told me the bill’s not going to be heard,” Docter said. “We were shocked and Rep. Munson was obviously not happy.”
But the Senate version of the bill was still pending. Munson and Floyd again met with Biggs. Was he going to block that bill in his committee? Biggs asked for several items to be modified. They said he assured them, “I’ll work with you. We’ll work out the kinks.”
Munson took a deep breath. “I just thought there is another version coming through. Make any improvements so we have a second chance.”
She and Sen. Floyd said they negotiated with Biggs and worked it out.
Once again, the deadline to get through his committee was looming. Once again, they would be locked out.
On April 9, Tudor sent Biggs an email asking to speak before his committee when the victims’ information bill was heard.
Biggs responded: “At this time the author has not provided a copy of the proposed committee substitute, and as such, the bill cannot be scheduled for a hearing.
“The author was well aware of the rule from a similar issue in regard to House bills earlier in this session, and the author only reached out yesterday for the first time in this three-week cycle.”
Munson was stunned when Tudor sent her a copy of the email. “To say I didn’t get things in on time is not true,” Munson said. “As we got closer to putting it on the agenda I reached out to Rep. Biggs and said: ‘We are ready to put the Senate version on. Is everything OK?’
“We did that. We got the changes done. Rep Biggs saw the bill. He read over it and told me it was a good bill.”
Biggs sent an email to Munson the next day, “Please see attached letter regarding your bill.”
Munson was confused. The letter involved another bill that Munson had nothing to do with, The Hidden Predator Act. Danielle Tudor had written a letter opposing the bill, unaware that Biggs was a behind-the-scenes sponsor.
Munson tried to track Biggs down. They finally met. Munson said Biggs told her the Sexual Assault Victims’ Right to Information Act would not be heard in his committee because of Tudor’s negative comments on the other bill.
“I was told that Danielle Tudor had reached out and worked against the Hidden Predator Act,” Munson said. “Rep. Biggs wasn’t an author, but he told me his hands and name were all over it.”
Munson’s bill was dead.
The rape kit audit task force did not fare any better in Biggs’ House committee after passing easily in the Senate. “I told Rep. Biggs, ‘I want to keep my bills alive,’” Sen.Floyd said. “He was supportive, but the dynamics on the House side are different. There are a lot more people involved and more things to deal with.”
However, Floyd had been working with the governor’s office for several weeks on a backup plan. On April 24, Floyd and Tudor spoke at a press conference at the Capitol to announce the rape kit audit task force bill had become an executive order.
It was Tudor’s one ray of hope.
Tudor thanked Floyd and Fallin for their work. “Every 98 seconds someone is assaulted in our country while only 6 of 1,000 perpetrators ever serves prison time,” Tudor said. “This is sending a very powerful message to victims to say that they and their causes do matter.”
Shortly after she stepped away from the podium, Tudor approached Biggs and asked him if he would be her “hero” and help keep the Sexual Assault Victims’ Right To Information Act alive.
He brushed her off, telling her, “This is not the time or place to discuss that.”
Tudor emailed Biggs on April 30, still hopeful something could be done.
“When I spoke with you at the press conference you suggested it wasn’t the time or place. I will make myself available to the time and place you determine. Please let me know when that is.”
Biggs responded the next day: “It was not a suggestion that it was the wrong time and place to have a discussion about other legislation, it was absolutely the wrong time and place.
“That was a day for celebrating something that Senator Floyd and others have invested considerable amount of time and political capitol [sic] in for victims in Oklahoma.”
"There are so many thin-skinned people. Egos hurt legislation more than anything else. It’s not the legislator who is suffering. It’s the victims seeking justice. That’s unconscionable." Joe Dorman
Tudor was nonplussed. “Power is one thing, but what you do with that power is another,” she told The Frontier. “Committee chairs have power, but how they use it, is that really for the betterment of the state? You want chairs who are fair people.”
The executive order states that the rape kit audits are to be completed by Dec. 30. The task force is supposed to report recommendations to the governor’s office, the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House by July 1, 2018.
Floyd is relieved the task force was saved. “It was a lot of work, particularly with all the shenanigans going on. I don’t claim to understand why people do what they do, but it’s been an amazing process.”
Dorman views the Tudor-Biggs encounter as an example of something Republicans and Democrats should take seriously if progress is to be made in the Legislature.
“It’s unfortunate that people get swept up in authority in higher positions. You see the majority party run roughshod over the minority party to retaliate based on personalities,” Dorman said. “The Democrats were just as bad when they were in charge. This is not a party-line issue. This is a majority party issue.
“There are so many thin-skinned people. Egos hurt legislation more than anything else. It’s not the legislator who is suffering. It’s the victims seeking justice. That’s unconscionable.”
Tudor hopes to revive her Sexual Assault Victims’ Right To Information Act in 2018, which includes the victim receiving the full results of the rape kit test.
She would also like to see legislation next year mandating law enforcement retain rape kits for a specific amount of time. “There is so much more that needs to be done.”
She believes her bills may have a chance of passing. Biggs resigned from the Legislature in November after being appointed Oklahoma State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
Why keep pushing for new laws after this tumultuous year?
“I will fight with everything within me because I have a granddaughter,” Tudor said. “I don’t want her to become a statistic. Right now, it’s like playing Russian roulette.”
But she also has a message for powerful men beyond Oklahoma, including those in the White House and state legislatures across the country.
“I would like to make a direct appeal to President Trump to respond to the national sexual assault conversation that is taking place right now. As my President, I need him to care about not only me — but the 25 million sexual assault survivors in our country.” Tudor said.
“We have a moment here in our country where we could make huge strides forward but he must take the lead. His lead is crucial for states like Oklahoma to be able to gain positive ground this next legislative session.”