Sex assault claims rarely confirmed at state hospitals

The Austin State Hospital is shown on April 29, 2016. Despite an infusion of funding from lawmakers for the state’s mental health care system, Texas struggles to provide psychiatric care for all patients who need it.
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State hospitals are often a last resort for the mentally ill and we trust patients will be protected, but one Austin mother worries patients are being preyed upon inside them and wonders whether anyone is paying attention.

Angela McKay is fighting for justice for her 32-year-old mentally disabled daughter, Anisha. She said  Anisha’s outcry of rape while a patient at the Austin State Hospital has fallen on deaf ears. The KVUE Defenders have been digging into Anisha’s case and found records that suggest there may be thousands in Texas just like her. This is her story.

The accident that changed her

Angela and Anisha go everywhere and do everything together. Anisha doesn’t have a choice. She was born with brain damage, leaving her intellectually disabled.

While pregnant with Anisha and her twin sister, Angela said she was working at the Austin State Hospital when a patient attacked her.

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"She was delusional,” Angela said. “I took her to the bathroom and she kicked me in my stomach. Two weeks after, they came. One pound, 14 ounces, and two pounds."

The twins were born prematurely. While one is healthy, Angela said the other, Anisha, has struggled since birth. Anisha is blind in one eye and has the IQ of a 13-year-old. But with some help, she managed to graduate from high school at 23.  

"Anisha was doing so good," Angela said.

But that changed in November 2014. Anisha hit her head, causing fluid on her brain.

"She said, 'Mom my brain is exploding,'” Angela said. “'I'm in so much excruciating pain. I can't take it.'"

Angela met with a neurosurgeon who put a medical device in Anisha's brain to relieve the pressure. Soon after the device was implanted, Angela said Anisha’s personality changed dramatically. She was having seizures. 

"She jumped out of her twin sister's car,” Angela said. “She tried to commit suicide. That's when she ended up at Seton hospital.”

'Please, please, I don't want my daughter to go there'

Anisha was admitted to Seton Shoal Creek Hospital for treatment. She was eventually sent to the Austin State Hospital in December 2015, triggering painful memories for Angela. She remembers pleading to the staff.

“I said, 'Please, please, I don't want my daughter to go there,'” Angela said. “Please. I'm being re-victimized. I didn't sign for my daughter to go to the Austin State Hospital!"

Despite her mother’s plea, Anisha was sent to the Austin State Hospital in late December of 2015. Angela said just a few days into her daughter’s stay, she called home saying she'd been raped by another patient.

“Then we call the Austin Police Department and told them that my daughter had been raped at the Austin State Hospital,” Angela said. “911 told us to call the nurse. We called the nurse that was in charge that night and told them to do a rape kit on my daughter. She never did."

A social worker did an assessment of Anisha the next day which makes no mention of rape, only that Anisha reported a male patient "laid on top of me and started grinding on me.”

"They changed the narrative of her story," Angela said.

Adult Protective Services initially investigated and didn’t confirm Anisha was raped. Three months later, the Texas Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General concluded there was “…no evidence to support the allegation. Therefore, the investigation was closed with a finding of unsubstantiated."

According to state records analyzed by the KVUE Defenders, that’s a common result.

One percent of reported sexual assaults substantiated in 10 years

Over the last 10 years, patients made 3,922 allegations of sexual assault at state hospitals across Texas. But state investigators have substantiated only one percent of them (57). The Austin State Hospital ranks third highest in sexual assault allegations across the state. Records show 731 sexual assault allegations were made since 2007 with only 9 confirmed cases.

Angela said Austin State Hospital staff allowed Anisha to leave and she took her to their family doctor.

"The doctor said she was brutally raped when she was in the hospital,” Angela said.

Angela filed her own report with the Austin Police Department. Based on Anisha’s mental state, the APD detective had the Center for Child Protection conduct a forensic interview of Anisha. In surveillance video obtained by the KVUE Defenders, Anisha describes what happened to her that night. 

"I was trying to get some sleep and he climbed on top of me," Anisha said. 

"Then what happened?” the investigator asked.

"He penetrated me," Anisha said.

"After he penetrated you then what happened?” the investigator asked. 

"I was trying to yell,” Anisha said. “Yell as hard as I can yell. I couldn't get him off me but no one came to my aid.”

Anisha went on to say, “there was a lot of blood when I was washing myself.”

She also told the investigator “they were laughing."

"Who was laughing?" the investigator asked.

"The people who work there," Anisha responded.

The APD detective’s report states he “reviewed subpoenaed documents" from state hospital staff that “make no mention of penetration.” He closed his investigation stating, “after a review of this case prosecution was declined.”

'Not a day goes by where I don't think about it'

Law enforcement officials agree rape allegations are often hard to prove, especially in mental institutions, but it’s still a major disappointment for Angela and her daughter.

"Not a day goes by where I don't think about it," Anisha said. "He took something away from me that was precious. He took away that something that I can never get back."

Angela said she feels like her daughter is now just another statistic and part of what she sees as an ongoing problem.

"The only thing that my daughter has as a human being is her body,” Angela said. “That was taken away. Her virginity was taken away."

For weeks the KVUE Defenders asked the Texas Department of Health Services, which oversees state hospitals, for an interview. The KVUE Defenders wanted to ask if agency policy was followed in this case and why so many sexual assault cases in state hospitals go unsubstantiated. Agency officials declined the interview.

Angela has hired an attorney who tried to convince the courts to allow him to depose those involved in this case before filing a lawsuit, but a district judge denied that request.

Angela said she intends to keep on fighting for her daughter and her attorney said he plans to file a lawsuit soon.