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Rape victim's story of survival highlights a growing issue: APD lacks investigators

Brenda woke up to find she had been assaulted by her Lyft driver. Her ongoing battle led to an even harsher discovery: She's joining a long line of survivors realizing Austin police are understaffed.

AUSTIN, Texas — For a woman identified in court records as Brenda, July 10, 2015, was supposed to be a fun night out with a girlfriend.

"I had been going through some things, and she thought it would be a good idea for me to get out and socialize a little bit," said Brenda as she recalled that Friday night.

Around 11 o'clock, Brenda – admittedly intoxicated – decided to go home. Her friends used the ride-share app Lyft for a car.

"My friend walked me to the car to make sure I got in with the right person, because I had never done that," she said.

On the way home, Brenda remembers waking up in a fog with the Lyft driver's face on her chest.

"And then I passed right back out," she said.

The next morning, she realized she had been raped.

Brenda called Austin police. Over the next few months, she faced a growing sense she was just one victim, waiting in a queue, vying for the time and attention of the detective on her case.


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The feeling started right away when investigators tried to schedule a first interview.

"She rescheduled it the first time, and then she reached out to me to reschedule it again, and I just remember feeling at the time, 'I'm just not sure they understand the emotions I'm feeling and what I'm going through,' because I was just ready to tell the story and get the process started," Brenda recalled.

The pattern played out time and time again as she called for updates on her case.

"Every time they contacted me, they were really nice but I did feel like I was the one that kind of had to initiate that contact," she said.

Among some sexual assault survivors, it's a familiar story.

Over the past few months, the issue of how Austin police investigate sexual assaults has become a flashpoint for community debate. There is a pending lawsuit from a group of survivors and an ongoing audit into whether APD investigators properly classified closed cases.

But a KVUE Defenders analysis reveals another issue – one that hasn't been part of the public discussion.

APD has 13 sex crimes detectives who, last year, investigated 1,877 cases ranging from sexual assaults to peeping Toms to indecent exposures. Taking into account the number of hours in their work week, the analysis shows that leaves just 10 hours on average to work a single case.

Travis County officials are currently studying the number of sexual assault cases that lead to guilty verdicts or pleas, and possible reasons a case may not go forward.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement profession does not have any standards for how many detectives a department should have. But an outside consultant hired by APD in 2012 said sex crimes was short on detectives then – and that's when the unit had about 33 percent fewer cases than it does now.

"The ability to effectively work a sexual assault case in 10 hours, I don't see that," Manley said.

He said he is concerned investigators are in a constant race against time.

"If you don't have enough investigators, then investigators may feel pressured for time, and they may not have enough time to take all of the steps necessary to appropriate that case," he said.


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Manley says a lack of detectives is an issue across the board for APD. Over the past three years, the department has asked the city council for 55 new investigators. The city gave APD money for just five.

Kelly White, executive director of the nonprofit Safe Alliance, which helps sex crime victims, said many sexual assault survivors express frustration over having to push for investigative attention.

"It's re-traumatizing, it's easier to just let it go and to just try to get on with my life and, at some point, it's just a giving up in anger," she said.

Brenda thought about doing just that.

"There were definitely times I thought I was just going to give up, and then whatever happens happens," she said.

But she didn't. The man who sexually assaulted her pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Today, knowing he is in prison and that her case is over, she can finally pause a moment, satisfied she pushed for justice and for her case to the end.

"I was definitely looking for them to hopefully guide me and keep me engaged, and make me feel like they were there for me," she said. "It's a long, kind of grueling process, and you definitely have to advocate for yourself."


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