Coni told police she was assaulted and raped at a Christmas party she attended with her fiance at an Oklahoma City club in 2011. She has asked to be identified by her first name only. She has little memory of her attack. KASSIE McCLUNG/The Frontier

Coni knew her rape kit had to be somewhere.

She remembered the long, painstaking process of a nurse collecting evidence from her body at a Tulsa hospital in 2011. She recalled a police officer taking the kit from the hospital, and not long after, receiving a $98 bill for the exam.

But years later, Oklahoma City Police detectives would tell Coni the kit didn’t exist, and her case had been dismissed for lack of evidence.

“It was over. I had no hope left. It didn’t happen. It just didn’t happen,” Coni said of her reported rape. “I had faith that it (the rape kit) was going to be processed.”

It wouldn’t be until late 2018 that the Oklahoma City Police Department located Coni’s untested rape kit. The agency admits they mishandled her case, saying it was never investigated.

Coni has since moved to a different state with her fiancé. The 51-year-old said her family has supported her, but since she reported the attack her rape has weighed on her. She felt her case didn’t matter and as if law enforcement didn’t support her.

“You just want someone to come and hear you, and not make you feel like a victim again,” she said.

Coni told police she was assaulted and raped at a Christmas party she attended with her fiancé at an Oklahoma City club in 2011. She has asked to be identified by her first name only. She has little memory of her attack.

Coni, who was 44 at the time, suspects someone might have slipped her a date-rape drug. She remembers feeling as if she had been “hit by an 18-wheeler” the day after the party. Bruises began appearing on her neck and around her body, and it was hard to swallow.

Coni and her fiance didn’t learn of the attack until the next day when another partygoer, who thought the encounter was consensual, told them they had seen Coni and a man who worked at the club in a bathroom together, Coni said.

She was shocked and confused, and immediately reported the incident and had a rape kit done in Tulsa because she lived there at the time.

She hoped the exam would capture any evidence of the attack.

A Tulsa Police Department sexual assault evidence collection kit. Photo courtesy NewsOn6

A rape kit, also known as a sexual assault evidence kit, is used to preserve any DNA evidence from a sexual assault and provides victims with important medical care, such as STI prevention medication. The exam, often performed by a specially trained nurse, can take several hours.

Rape kits can also increase the likelihood of the perpetrator being prosecuted.

A Tulsa police officer picked the kit up and promised to hold on to it until Oklahoma City police retrieved it. However — unknown to Coni — no one did.

Coni called Oklahoma City Police Department in 2012 to follow up on her case, and again in 2013. Both times, she said, detectives said the attack was still under investigation and there was no news.

For several years, Coni heard nothing about her case, thinking detectives might have given it low prioritization.

Then, Oklahoma leaders started to bring attention to the issue of the state’s untested rape kits in 2017. Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order in April that year creating a 17-member task force to determine the number of untested rape kits in more than 350 law enforcement agencies across Oklahoma. The audit found more than 7,000 untested kits.

The news got Coni’s attention.

“So I’m going, ‘Yeah, it’s been a couple of years, maybe I should see where’s mine and has it been tested and please don’t destroy it,’” she said.

In late 2017, she again reached out to an Oklahoma City detective who told her in an email the kit didn’t exist. Coni thought that was the end of her case, and she worried the man would attack another woman.

“It didn’t exist. It’s over,” Coni said. “And I couldn’t change what might have happened to someone else. That’s why I wanted the rape kit. He was a predator. Everything about this situation around it was a predator and I knew it.”

Coni, angry by how her case had been handled, connected in late 2018 with Danielle Tudor, a fellow survivor and member of the governor’s task force leading the effort to reform how the state handles rape kits. Tudor helped her locate the kit.

The Oklahoma City Police Department recently told Coni they found her kit with the Tulsa Police Department. Detectives met with her for the first time on Wednesday.

Oklahoma Police Department Maj. Jason Clifton, who represents the department on the task force, said retrieving the rape kit was the department’s responsibility. When he looked into Coni’s case, it was apparent it was handled wrong.

“It wasn’t investigated,” Clifton said.

Clifton said an internal investigation has been opened into the case’s mistreatment. Her rape kit has been given top priority to be tested, and the case was assigned to a detective.

Clifton said it’s not uncommon for a victim to get a rape kit done in another jurisdiction. Normally, a detective would immediately call the victim upon getting the report, and if a kit was done, they would retrieve it.

Oklahoma is set to launch a sexual assault evidence tracking system in February. That would allow victims and law enforcement to track the status of their rape kits through processing.

Coni said detectives still haven’t provided the incident report connected with her case, and they told her there is little information recorded. Still, she’s optimistic the case has been reopened.

“I am actually hopeful, and not just for myself. I’m hopeful this isn’t going to happen again,” Coni said. “I’m hopeful that other women will be justified in having to go through the process.”

Further reading

A Frontier Investigation — Shadow Land