August 20, 2019
Hundreds of adult sexual assaults are reported to the Austin Police Department each year, but only a tiny fraction of these cases will make it before a jury. The question is: why? It’s something we’re exploring in our series, The Provability Gap. In the second part of the series, KUT’s Nadia Hamdan looks at some of the ways police may be failing sexual assault victims.Listen
An in-depth news series about the handling and mishandling of sexual assault cases in Austin and Central Texas. Travis County law enforcement responded to more than 600 adult sexual assault allegations in 2017, according to the Travis County District Attorney. That same year, only one person was found guilty by a jury. In the age of #MeToo, there’s a growing number of people in Austin– and across the country – who worry the criminal justice system is failing rape victims.
KUT’s Nadia Hamdan spent eight months speaking with more than a dozen people within the sphere of sexual assault to find out why it was so hard to prosecute these cases. She interviewed survivors, detectives, prosecutors, and scholars.
The most difficult part of her reporting was finding sexual assault survivors who were open to sharing their stories. At one point, Hamdan drove eight hours in one day to meet one woman at her family home in south Texas so she would feel comfortable during the interview. The conversations themselves were also incredibly challenging – not only because of the subject matter but because of the time it took to build a foundation of trust. Still, even with all the difficulty, she says developing a relationship with these women remains one of the most rewarding experiences of her journalistic career.
In addition, Hamdan’s reporting involved extreme vetting of data from Austin police, the Travis County District Attorney’s office, and local advocacy groups. Each organization was reporting different sexual assault numbers which made it difficult to make sense of it all. This took hours of time and many follow up interviews to try to nail down the closest thing to “right.” But the sad reality is much of the data around sexual assaults is not reliable – something our reporter plans to flesh out in a later piece.
Finally, Hamdan was able to get prominent public officials on record about this subject. The Travis County district attorney, Austin’s Chief of Police, and some Austin City Council Members. These conversations ranged from uncomfortable to combative. The Travis County district attorney explicitly shared her frustration with Hamdan in-person – raising her voice and slinging personal attacks. But Hamdan and her editors all felt that if simply asking questions elicited such a response – they were on to something.
Ultimately, Hamdan was able to answer many of the larger questions surrounding why it was so difficult to prosecute sexual assault cases in Austin-Travis County. Her and her team were able to break it down for the listener into four parts – the victim, the police, the prosecutor, and the public. Each section fleshed out the many problems that can arise at every step of the judicial process. One of the more promising outcomes of her reporting – outside the journalistic accolades – was the number of listeners who took the time to email the station after the story aired saying it left them with a deeper understanding of this issue.
Here is just one response KUT received from an Austin
“I have listened to NPR for almost 3 decades during my commutes in three different cities, and I have never felt compelled to email the local station. But as a bit of a socio-legal journalism junkie, I want to say that the Provability Gap may be the best piece I’ve read/heard in 2019 – simply articulated yet nuanced, compelling yet embracing complexity. Thank you.”
Nadia Hamdan is an award-winning reporter, producer and host at KUT.
Her reporting has been heard on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, WBUR’s Here & Now and the BBC World Service, among other programs.
She’s won numerous awards for her reporting, including a national PMJA award, two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and multiple Texas AP Awards. Hamdan was awarded a Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas for a podcast on why sexual assaults are so hard to prosecute in Austin.
Nadia received her bachelor’s in International Relations & Global Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
She once conducted an entire interview while riding a mule through downtown Austin.