MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There are a lot of reasons why a woman might not come forward and report a claim of sexual assault. This next story is about a woman who did. Her name is Amber Wyatt. And a warning - her story is hard to hear and might not be suitable for all listeners. She says she was raped 12 years ago by fellow students at her high school in suburban Arlington, Texas.
We're going to talk now with the woman who wrote about these events for The Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig, and the woman who lived them, Amber Wyatt. Welcome to you both.
AMBER WYATT: Hi.
ELIZABETH BRUENIG: Thanks so much for having me.
KELLY: Let me start where this story starts, which is back - you both were students at the same high school, at James Martin High School in Texas. Did you know each other then?
BRUENIG: No (laughter).
WYATT: No (laughter), no.
KELLY: You were - what? - a couple years apart in high school.
BRUENIG: Yeah, and Amber was cool.
WYATT: (Unintelligible), right?
KELLY: That's relevant, actually. You were a cheerleader, which informs some of the events and places that you were as this story unfolds. And I want to take us there and talk about the night of August 11, 2006. To set the scene, Amber, you were at a kickoff rally for the football season and then an after-party at a classmate's house.
KELLY: There was alcohol - a lot of alcohol.
KELLY: And you have said you remember getting into a truck with a football player and a soccer player who drove you away from the party to a shed off a back road. Would you tell us what happened?
WYATT: We got there. They told us that there was more alcohol in the shed. And we were going to go in and get it. And that's not what we did, so...
KELLY: They led you inside, and the alcohol they said you were there to pick up wasn't there. And they took you up to a loft.
WYATT: Right - to a loft on the top, yeah. They - yeah, they took me up there and proceeded to rape me.
KELLY: Both of them.
KELLY: I'm really sorry to ask you to relive that night. You've relived it many times already. You reported it right away. I mean, you told people about this...
WYATT: I know.
KELLY: ...The moment they drove you back to the party. Who did you tell?
WYATT: I told a boy named Arthur Aven, and then he called Cindy Mark, the owner of the home that...
KELLY: Where the party was.
WYATT: ...The party was at and - where the party was - and another student. And then, yeah, in the morning, I told my mom and one of my best friends immediately, so...
KELLY: Elizabeth, I want to bring you in and let you pick up some of this.
KELLY: Amber - she says there she told her mom. She told the police. She went to the hospital the next morning and took a sexual assault test. You have spent years combing through the evidence of what happened that night. How strong a case did you find that Amber was raped that night?
BRUENIG: You know, sexual assault cases are hard to prosecute. But despite that, I thought there was actually - from the several prosecutors who I talked to about this case, there was a fairly strong case there. There was DNA evidence. There were injuries.
KELLY: There was semen found...
KELLY: ...That matched one of the men...
KELLY: ...One of the boys that Amber named.
BRUENIG: In Amber's body, recovered in the rape kit. The sexual assault nurse examiner who conducted the exam spoke with me on the record and said, you know, there's no question about it; the girl was raped. I mean, she had seen dozens of sexual assault cases over her career, and she felt like the injuries that she saw were consistent with a sexual assault.
KELLY: Despite strong physical evidence, despite Amber's testimony, despite the fact that she went to the police, that she took a sexual assault test at the hospital the very next day, no one was ever prosecuted. Why not?
BRUENIG: A lot of it seemed to have to do with the grand jury system, the way it was set up in North Texas at the time, especially in Tarrant County. There is evidence that they had no billed or issued non-indictments on a vast quantity of similar sexual assault cases. One of the prosecutors who I spoke to theorized that at the time, prosecutors had essentially presented these cases to grand juries in a sort of throwaway fashion because they didn't really have any interest in going to trial on very difficult cases that they might very well lose.
KELLY: Amber, after you made these allegations, what kind of reaction did you get? Did people support you? Did they believe you?
WYATT: They immediately did not believe me. So that happened that weekend, and Monday was the first day of school. And one of my best friends - her boyfriend's best friend - he was in karate or something, and he walked me to my classes that day 'cause I had been getting threats already.
KELLY: What kind of threats? I mean, what were people saying?
WYATT: That they were going to put bombs in my mailbox and that I needed to go kill myself, that I was just a stupid drunk slut and no one believed me, and I shouldn't even show up to school - things like that.
And I remember we had a pep rally very soon after school. And I didn't even participate because they go through, and they introduce each cheerleader, and they do a trick. And I didn't want to be introduced in front of everyone 'cause I knew it would be horrible, so...
KELLY: Elizabeth, did you reach out to the two boys, now men, and ask them for their comment?
BRUENIG: Absolutely, many, many, many times. And in the end, I was able to verify that at least one of them knew I was attempting to get in touch and chose not to respond.
KELLY: Amber, do you think if something like this - if what happened to you happened to a teenage girl, a high school cheerleader today in 2018, that it would play out differently? Do you think she'd be believed or people would be more open to hearing her account?
WYATT: In Texas, no.
KELLY: Although worth noting - since Elizabeth's story came out, there's been a huge response. I was on Twitter, and the hashtag #IBelieveAmberWyatt is trending.
BRUENIG: Amber, how do you feel about that?
WYATT: It's overwhelming. The outpour of support and apologies and love came in like a tidal wave. It was, like, the story was posted, and within an hour or two, my inbox - I couldn't even answer all the messages.
KELLY: Who have you heard from?
WYATT: Who have I heard from - other students, parents of the students. One of my professors emailed me. And when she signed it, she put #MeToo. You know, that - it reminded me of why I did this story. I did it for the other survivors to know they're not alone and that we have to change this.
KELLY: Amber Wyatt, thank you for sharing your story.
WYATT: Thank you for having me.
KELLY: And Elizabeth Bruenig, thank you for writing it and for joining us.
BRUENIG: Thanks so much for having us on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.