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How Tarrant County And A Community Failed A Student After She Reported A Rape

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(Editor's note: This story includes graphic details of a sexual assault that some may find disturbing.) 

In the summer of 2006, 16-year-old Amber Wyatt said she was was raped by two of her classmates at Martin High School in Arlington. She reported the crime almost immediately. No one was ever prosecuted.

Instead, many in her school and her community turned against her. 

Elizabeth Bruenig, a writer for The Washington Post, was one of Wyatt's classmates at Martin. In her newly published report on Wyatt's story, Bruenig details how,the former cheerleader had her claims discredited not only students, but parents too. People began writing "F.A.I.T.H." on cars — an acronym that stood for "f--- Amber in the head." Wyatt says she received death threats. She left Martin soon after. 

Despite Wyatt's injuries and the presence of semen from one of the suspects in her body, a Tarrant County grand jury chose not to indict. 

For this week's Friday Conversation, Bruenig breaks down what happened and where Wyatt is now. 

Interview Highlights

On why no one was charged

There are so many reasons that it's hard to say which one. The Tarrant County grand jury system at the time had a no-bill issue. They had non-indictments on a tremendously high number of sexual assault cases compared to other counties. 

Did it have to do with the makeup of the grand jury? It's possible. Texas was one of the last states to reform its grand jury system from the so-called "pick a pal" commissioner's system to a random selection of jurors from the population.

Credit The Washington Post
The Washington Post
Reporter Elizabeth Bruenig

The other possibility is some sort of prosecutorial misconduct. We know that the detective on Amber's case wasn't called to testify to the grand jury, neither was the sexual assault nurse examiner, neither was Amber.

On the school and community reaction 

I remember there was quite a bit of talking about it in classes. That's how I heard about "F.A.I.T.H,," which had been written on the rear windshield of cars. It was initially an apparent statement of faith in favor of the boys, but took on this acronymic meaning. The kids would whisper about what it really meant. 

On one level, as a teenager, you're glad it's not you. On the other hand, there's a real, visceral horror of these adult problems intruding on a childish world.

On how she feels about her hometown, Arlington

One thing I wanted to get across in the article is that I love North Texas. It's important to emphasize that Arlington doesn't belong to its worst actors. They don't define it. 

It's as much Amber's town. My town. Anyone's town. There's a lot to love there.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity. 

Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.