Melinda Henneberger

KU student in false report case texted ‘LOL,’ but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped

Nothing witnesses said under oath at a preliminary hearing — and oh, they said plenty — proves that a KU law student was raped by a classmate here last fall. It couldn’t have, since police never investigated her allegations.

Nor did they establish that the young woman, who was later handcuffed and charged with making false statements, lied about anything that happened in the early hours of Sept. 28, 2018.

The testimony did, however, suggest that some of those whose job it is to investigate sexual assaults in this college town don’t know what rape is. Or understand as much as the occasional Law & Order: SVU viewer about how victims tend to behave.

On Thursday, a Douglas County judge declined to dismiss charges against the woman, who if convicted at a trial set to start on Oct. 28 could spend up to six years behind bars.

Could that really happen? Well, it’s not encouraging that at the June hearing, laid out in a 513-page court transcript, Lawrence police said that after spending all of 90 minutes on the case, they concluded she was lying and had not been raped.

The day after the alleged assault, they looked at messages on her phone and saw that in texts to a friend, she’d tried to laugh off the situation while she was still in it. And while she was still impaired — not only according to her own testimony that she was “blackout drunk,” but based on her liquor tab and security footage of her stumbling into a bar.

“LOL,” she texted her friend. So according to prosecutor Eve Kemple, “that’s not someone who was suffering from stress and fear.”

She wasn’t in a blackout, Kemple said, because “clearly you were cognizant enough to even use correct grammar and quotation marks.”

Trying to minimize, normalize and deny is often exactly what victims do; that’s the brain’s way of trying to process and protect us from trauma in its immediate aftermath. And those who can put sentences together while sober might also manage it under the influence.

At 2:44 a.m., the woman texted, “I f---ed up. I slept with (the man).” When she assumed everything was her fault, the police believed her. And when she said, “He’s actually really good at sex, though,” they took that literally. Obviously, she’d enjoyed herself. Was there anything more to know?

After seeing those messages, the officers were so sure she was lying that they never even registered the bruises on her neck, arms and legs, or the vaginal tears the nurse who did her hospital exam documented.

The police didn’t dissect the discrepancies in the account of the young man, and only interviewed him to build a case against the woman.

They saw nothing relevant in his text that night, right after one saying how drunk she was, that he was going to sleep with her just to show his friend who was her sometime boyfriend that he could.

Since she hadn’t initially used the word “rape,” but had lamented her own “poor decisions,” these were obviously the definitive, accurate statements.

Police had zero interest in her account as flashes of the night started to come back to her. Those included waking up not knowing who was on top of her and hearing him say, as she tried to pull away, “You’re making me feel like I have to Kavanaugh this bitch.” (The day before, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegations that he held her down and assaulted her at a high school party.)

“At the moment I woke up,” the KU student testified, “I felt that there was pressure being applied to my neck.”

Instead of looking into that, cops accepted his word that they’d had “100% consensual” rough sex and that she’d later threatened to accuse him if he didn’t help smooth things over with the friend of his she’d been seeing.

At the hearing, her attorney asked the man whether he understood “that rape can be committed when the other party lacks the ability to consent.”

“I’m aware that’s the law.” But it didn’t apply, because “we were both drunk. Neither of us were at the stage of drunkenness where neither of us could consent. We both fully, actively knew what we were doing.”

Investigators apparently know better in theory than in practice that it’s rape when one party is wasted. So it didn’t strike them as doubletalk that the man said both that she was fine and that she wasn’t fine, that they were drunk and able to consent.

Detective Charles Cottengim testified that after reading her texts, he and two other officers “made the decision” she was lying. “None of us believed this was a legitimate claim of rape.”

Defense attorney Branden Bell asked Cottengim about interviewing the man involved.

“So he walks in and tells you no rape’s occurred, right?”

“Correct.”

“Which you already believed in the first place.”

“Correct.”

“You asked him how intoxicated (she) was?”

“Yes.”

“And he told you that she was talking and acting normally?”

“Yes.”

In his texts from that night, “that’s not how he described (her) at all, right?”

“Correct.”

“In fact, he described (her) as being really f---ed up.”

“That’s correct.”

Others “also described her as really f---ed up.”

“Correct.”

At least one person said that he, on the other hand didn’t “even look tipsy?”

“That’s correct.”

“So that would have been somewhat inconsistent or (a)

discrepancy with what (he) told you during the interview?”

“Yes.”

“You never challenged him?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Why would he, when he’d already read those texts about how good the guy was at sex, LOL.

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