What Rape?

This story documents the repeated failures of the St. Louis police to respond adequately to serious allegations of sexual abuse. Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in August, 2005.

Woman Reporting Abuse at School Waited 15 Months for Charges

An 18-year-old developmentally disabled woman was attending classes at the Nottingham Community Access & Job Training High School in St. Louis in May of last year when she reported something alarming:

A young man pulled her into a classroom, pressed her between a locker and the wall, and tried to take her pants off. She told people at the school that he showed her his penis.

The girl's mother, Alice Obenhaus, said her daughter asked: "'Can I take a shower because he got me all sticky, and can you wash my sweater, because he got my sweater all sticky.'" Obenhaus gave the sweater to the St. Louis police.

Police filed an official crime report about the case. But Obenhaus said the detective told her there was not much police could do: The young man did not actually rape the girl, he was mentally handicapped, so he might be difficult to prosecute, and the girl seemed to have suffered no ill effects.

Obenhaus said the detective called again recently -- 15 months later -- with a change of heart.

"We have his DNA, " Obenhaus said the detective told her.

On Aug. 4, Terrell Travis, 19, of Hillsdale, was charged with sexual abuse, a felony.

Obenhaus learned through acquaintances about the Post-Dispatch investigation and said she thinks it prompted the renewed interest in her daughter's case. She called the department to complain about the detective.

Lt. John Harper, commander of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse sections, met with Obenhaus.

"He just inferred to me it was like an internal audit, " she said. "They were going back over old cases, and this one looks like one that we should have followed up on."

Police did not make Harper available for an interview.