Donald V. Watkins
When Courage Matters: The Brittany Luckenbaugh Story
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 18, 2018
I do not know Brittany Luckenbaugh, but I was deeply moved by her story and courage. This 22-year-old University of Alabama student was sexually assaulted in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on the night of her birthday. She was raped in the worst kind of way. The three men who raped Brittany were not prosecuted.
Now, Brittany is bravely showing other rape victims the pathway forward. On her Facebook page, Brittany has asked that we share her story in the hope that it might save other women who have been raped and sexually assaulted.
On May 11, 2018, Brittany shared her story with the world. Here it is:
“To the girl who feels like she doesn’t have any strength left in her…
You are not alone. I have been there and to be perfectly honest with you, I am still here and it is just the beginning of a long journey ahead. March 28th 2018 was a night that was supposed to be something worth remembering. My 22nd birthday. Instead, it turned into the night where I suddenly felt like, for once, I had completely lost all strength and, most importantly, all hope. It was the night that I wish so desperately I could erase from my mind and never let return.
The night began with laughter, music, and best friends all being in the same place and having a night out to forget about the homework, the real world creeping in on us in just a few short months, and anything else that we decided to put to aside for the evening. Later that night we were at one of our favorite bars at school and I ended up getting separated from the group I had been with all night. I quickly found another friend and left to walk to another bar a couple of blocks down the street. A few minutes later, I found myself separated once again. This is when I decided to walk home and call it a night. As I began walking home, I was approached by two males asking if I needed a ride home. Innocent me, who has always tried to see the best in everyone, agreed to getting a ride home. Keep in mind, the alcohol was also playing a role in this decision. Shortly after getting into the car and realizing that we had passed my house, I was told that we were going to keep the party going and I was then taken to another home with which I was not familiar. After stumbling into the house I was taken into a bedroom where I was immediately taken advantage of in the worst way a girl could imagine.
You hear the word “rape” and think that it will never become a part of your vocabulary and certainly would never be something that could possibly happen to you. It did, however, and I ended up being raped by three men who I did not know. I remember trying to push them away and saying the word “no” over and over and over again. At this point, the only thing I could feel was a sense of helplessness. I remember begging to be taken home and the next thing I knew, I had woken up at the foot of my roommates bed the next morning feeling like I had just awakened from the worst nightmare I could’ve imagined. Instead, I woke up only to realize that the entire next month and probably months after would end up being just as bad, if not worse.
They say that the very first thing you do in a situation like this is tell someone, which is exactly what I did. I gathered my roommates and we all decided that we needed to call my parents and then be taken to the emergency room. Everything from that point became a blur very quickly. There are a few things that come back to me such as lying outside our house on the balcony crying in the pouring rain and having to be physically carried into the house. Having to be stripped down from head to toe in the hospital and examined with a black light. Having to watch both parents look at me like I had just lost every ounce of my innocence while it was completely ripped from me. It then turned into nightmare after nightmare and flashback after flashback. I stopped eating. The most sleep I was getting was 2 hours a night, if that. But most importantly, the smile on my face was completely gone – stripped away in what seemed like a matter of moments. Here I am today writing this, not knowing when that smile will return, if ever.
After going through every step of this process that I was “supposed” to go through, I had still not made the decision to prosecute if they were apprehended. If it was only going to hurt my mental health in the long run and if the outcome was going to be like many of the other cases that we had seen take place, why would I? A few weeks later I received a phone call and was told that there was more than enough evidence to charge all three men with rape in the first degree but that my permission was needed. After speaking with both of my parents, I decided that if I was going to help stop this from happening to other women in the future, I was going to proceed with the charges being filed. After all, justice needed to be served.
The reason I chose today to write this and to tell my story is because today [May 11, 2018] is the day I was told that the grand jury has decided that there was ultimately not enough evidence to continue moving forward with the case. It would not be fair to put me through being cross-examined three different times if it was going to be this difficult to prove that these three men were guilty. In this moment, every bit of my strength and hope were once again completely gone. I had been told over and over again that I am so brave for doing all of these things that are required in cases like this and what had happened to me did not define the way that I could live the rest of my life.
Here I am, a senior at the University of Alabama, the school that I had dreamed of going to since I was a 12-year-old innocent little girl, miserable in the place that was supposed to be a ‘home away from home’ while I am 12 hours away from my hometown. All of the happiness that I once felt at this school, turned into fear and turned into hate. These three men had people fighting for them and had people trying so desperately to “clear their names from the system” and yet I was just another victim who was told that there was nothing more they could do. It felt as if no one was fighting for me like they were fighting for them.
Today I am deciding to share my story in hopes of speaking to other women who are dealing with the same thing and who feel the same loneliness that I have felt since the night of my birthday. I am here to remind you that it doesn’t matter how short your skirt was that night, or how much alcohol you had consumed, or even if you were naïve like me and accepted a ride home. It is not, and never will be, your fault. The only thing that could’ve possibly changed this situation was the man, or men that did this to you. I am here to tell you that you are not alone, and you are never alone. I am here to tell you that no matter what a room full of people from the community decide in a Grand Jury room, they will never be able to take away what happened to you and turn it into something that is not important. The feelings you are feeling are something that are real and they are something that do not go away overnight. I still wake up and have those horrible memories every day. What I do know, is that today I will strive to make a difference. I will also decide to call myself a survivor and not another victim whose case was taken far too lightly in the courtroom. Most importantly I am here to tell you, and also remind myself, that your bright smile that once lit up a room full of many people, will once shine again.”
In bravely telling her story, Brittany Luckenbaugh left us with these words:
“Thank you to those of you that have held my hand through this experience and who have continued to make the biggest difference in my life. I am also thanking God for giving me another beautiful day on this earth to make a difference in someone else’s life and turn a horrific experience into something positive.”
As a former Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alabama who handled major felony cases against powerful defendants (including high-ranking police officers who murdered victims), here is my message to Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy, former Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Lyn Head, current District Attorney Hays Webb, and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall: I am sick and tired of your pathetic excuses for not prosecuting rape cases against powerful "suspects". Bill Cosby would love you. Everybody inside the local criminal justice system knows from the Megan Rondini and Brittany Luckenbaugh rape cases that you will routinely use the grand jury process as a vehicle to cover up your unwillingness to prosecute rape cases when well-connected “suspects” are involved. How many rape victims are you willing to betray before you do your jobs as law enforcement officials?
PHOTO: Brittany Luckenbaugh during happier days.