Lauren Atkins has been involved in Tigerpalooza since her freshman year, but she never raised very much money. But this year Atkins was named Tigerpalooza Princess after raising more money than anyone else at the school.
The cause was important to her. All of the money will be used by the Women’s Resource Center for classes on consent at middle schools in Norman.
The week before Atkins and other members of the NHS student council decided on Tigerpalooza’s beneficiary, Atkins told her parents she had been raped by a friend at a party the night before.
The 17-year old Norman High School senior, then a junior, had passed out after drinking too much in the bathroom connected to her friend’s bedroom.
She said she woke up unable to move with a male friend on top of her.
As soon as she told her parents, her dad called the police.
“It happened in the Oklahoma City limits, so my dad called Norman PD and then got transferred to Moore, then he got transferred to Oklahoma City,” Atkins said. “He had to say it three times.”
An officer from the Oklahoma City Police Department drove to Atkins’ house to meet.
At that time, Atkins didn’t know what she wanted to do. It had been less than 24 hours from when she woke up to a friend having sex with her unconscious body.
“It was a big conflict in my head, like I didn’t want him to get in trouble, maybe he made a mistake, but then I’d tell myself ‘no, he should get in trouble because of what happened,’” Atkins said. “A couple of days went by and when I went in to Oklahoma City and talked to my investigator, I was like ‘yes, I am pressing charges’ because this is messed up and I don’t deserve this.”
The officer who took Atkins’ statement, told her that she should get examined and tested.
Atkins went to get the test done in Midwest City. She and her dad waited for a while before they were led back to a nurse.
“She was so nice. I just really liked that she was treating me like a person,” Atkins said. “That’s what I needed.”
The medical staff told her it wasn’t their fault, that she would get through it and that she was strong. After she relayed her story, they also told her if the case made it to trial they were willing to get on the stand and tell her story.
As part of the test kit, the medical staff took her clothes, which were the same ones she had been wearing at the party. They gave her new clothes and a goodie bag with information on other services, including a scarf made by another rape survivor.
“It was so empowering at the time,” Atkins said. “I think everything would have been a lot different if I hadn’t gone there.”
She didn’t leave until 11 p.m. Her parents asked how she was doing after the invasive tests and she told them she felt pretty good.
“I told them I’m going to do whatever it takes to make this right,” Atkins said.
Atkins’ case was assigned to OCPD Detective Valari Homan from the department’s sex crimes unit.
Oklahoma City Police spokesperson Sgt. Gary Knight said the detective assigned to the case reached out to the suspect for an interview and the suspect exercised his right to remain silent.
“There was never a formal interview performed on him,” Knight said.
Atkins sent Homan screenshots of conversations the boy had with her the day after the party, as well as conversations he had with Atkins’ friends.
“It was so terrible. I would call her sometimes and it would go to voicemail, then she wouldn’t call me back for three days,” Atkins said. “Then she would call me back and I wouldn’t see it, then I’d call her back. We just kept playing phone tag. I don’t think I talked to her at all, all summer.”
Atkins also spent a week at camp and went on a mission trip over the summer. She wasn’t going to let what happened stop her from living her life.
Eventually the boy wrote a message about what happened that night that he sent to all of his teammates.
Atkins got a screenshot of that message as well and sent it to Homan.
“He talks about how bad he feels, but he never admits to raping her,” Knight said.
Homan did present the case to the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office and suggested charges be filed. But the DA’s office declined to file charges.
Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Susan Caswell said there wasn’t enough evidence of a crime.
Caswell said speaking from a general sense, the DA’s office has an obligation to look at the information and determine whether a crime is committed and whether there is proof of who committed the crime. Another element the DA’s office has to consider before filing charges is whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction. That is why sometimes the DA’s office choses to pursue lesser charges like simple assault instead of rape.
“A lot of times, prosecutors may believe there has probably been a crime committed, but there may not be sufficient evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty,” Caswell said. “We look at all of the possible crimes that could come out of the information that we’re given. We don’t just look at the charge, or charges, the officer presents. We look at any other charge that could be applicable.”
The entire process left Atkins and her parents feeling like the police and the district attorney’s office didn’t even try to make a case.
“That’s what made me the most upset. They didn’t even tell us that they dropped the case until way after they decided,” Atkins said. “My parents were so mad because we didn’t learn until a month after it happened.”
Atkins asked her dad to call for an update on the case then went into work. Her father made a couple phone calls and eventually he was told that the district attorney’s office had decided not to pursue charges. He told Atkins when she came home .
Atkins said her emotions have been weird since the incident. She feels cut off from her emotions, like her brain has decided it might be better not to feel strong emotions or not acknowledge them. When she looks back on how she felt when all of this happened, Atkins doesn’t recall having much of an emotional response.
But when she watched herself sob in a video she took of herself the night she found out charges wouldn’t be filed, she realized that wasn’t the case at all.
“I just tried to push that out,” Atkins said.
Right after she claimed she was raped, Norman High School connected her with the school’s student advocate and helped Atkins secure weekly visits to a therapist at Bethesda.
The advocate told her there wasn’t much they could do as a school, but there were some options, including changing her schedule and getting her some help to make sure the rape and aftermath didn’t affect her academically.
“They’re very considerate,” Atkins said. “The next year when I came back, she would check on me.”
Atkins had shared with her best friend that she was feeling depressed because nothing was going on with her case, so her friend told the advocate.
Atkins student advocate suggested at the beginning of the school year that Atkins call the investigator and hear why the district attorney decided not to pursue charges.
Homan told Atkins that there was conflicting evidence from other witnesses, but their identities were confidential.
“I was there, they weren’t. It was just other drunk people saying what they think they saw,” Atkins said. “It was like she was just waiting for someone to contradict what I said happened.”
The call confirmed what happened, but it didn’t give Atkins any closure.
A few months later, Atkins’ friend from Carl Albert High School connected Atkins with blogger Eleni Mitzali after Mitzali wrote a story about a proposed dress code at Carl Albert.
Her friend told Atkins if she wanted to get her story out, she could go through Mitzali.
Atkins finally had a way to get some kind of closure.
“She worked on this for two months,” Atkins said.
Then Mitzali came to visit Norman and attended a Tigerpalooza event to meet Atkins’ friends.
Atkins got most of her information on the case from Mitzali’s reporting.
Mitzali was the one who first told her police never interviewed the suspect and that they interviewed three people who were at the party. Through her own interviews with Atkins’ friends, Mitzali found out who those three were and each of them repeated for Mitzali what they told the police.
After Mitzali’s piece was published. Atkins shared it on all her social media accounts.
“So many people have contacted me, it is so crazy. I never knew how big it would get,” Atkins said.
She got messages from almost everybody she knows offering support. People from around the country and on different continents have connected with Atkins and said her willingness to step forward and talk about her experience encouraged them to open about their own experiences with rape and sexual abuse.
“Really what I wanted to do was bring justice for myself, but I thought if I could tell Eleni, maybe this could empower other girls,” Atkins said.
Atkins said one surprising thing was how many girls from her own school told her they had similar experiences. They claimed they had been raped too, and had also collected screenshots and taken a rape exam, then gone to the police. Just like Atkins’ case, the district attorney decided not to pursue their cases as well.
“It made me so mad,” Atkins said. “Because it sucks that this happened to me, but I’m a pretty strong person. I can take it. There are so many people who aren’t as confident, and that it happened to them. Going out and having someone write an article about you then posting it on Facebook, that isn’t very common. But these girls haven’t really told anyone, but they still went through the process, they probably feel so much worse than I do.”