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Crimewatch: Rape victim speaks out about attack

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Stranger on stranger sexual assaults are the most alarming and in the past few weeks, Austin Police have worked more than usual. Investigators say they're hard to solve and aren't as black and white like many other crimes.

Jennifer Holling, 41, is a mother, business woman, and rape survivor.

"I don't have my smile that was my smile, I have a smile that was created by my dentist," said Holling.

It was a violent and traumatic ordeal. She remembers begging for her life.

"Take my car, take my purse, take my money, I still hadn't seen his face and at that point I said, I can't identify you, you can get away," said Holling.

When she got hysterical, he responded.

"He hit me over the head with the butt of a gun. Then he fired the weapon not at me, thank God but I think he was trying to get me to cooperate but instead it made me even more hysterical. I started screaming," she said. "He took the gun and hit me in the mouth and knocked out one of my teeth."

Holling was a graduate student at the University of Texas and worked part time as a pizza delivery driver in 2002. She just delivered a pizza in north Austin.

Melvin Smith was waiting for her when she returned.

"Somebody said hola senorita," Holling said.

At gun point, he made her drive to a park on scribe drive. That's where he beat and sexually assaulted her.

"He did rape me in the park," Holling said.

Then 20-year-old, Melvin Smith was caught that same night, tried, and convicted. He's serving 80 years for aggravated sexual assault, 30 years for aggravated kidnapping and 20 years for aggravated burglary.

When stranger on stranger attacks like this happen, it's all hands on deck for the sex crimes unit.

Since June, police say there have been a higher number of these attacks than usual.

Half happened at elementary schools while school was not in session. Police say the predators target people in certain areas at specific times for a reason.

"When you look at elementary schools and you look at places like that where a lot of folks will come out early morning hours late time to walk, to exercise. Where are you going to find them at? Town Lake, walking on South Congress," Detective Michael Crumrine of APD Sex Crimes. "Most of these attacks are happening either in the real early morning hours or really late at night so there's not a whole lot of other folks around either."

Police say half are also registered sex offenders. They say that's no surprise since rape is often a repeat crime. Solving sexual assaults involve more challenges than most other crimes. Detectives have to fight stereotypes.

"The myths, the prejudice, the bias that comes with it. Like we talked about. Well she was drunk, she has mental illness, it was just drunk sex, it wasn't a rape," said Detective Crumrine.

That's why detectives go out in the public and educate.

"Our unit does a lot of reaching out and teaching at different levels. We do classes at St. Ed's, we did classes at UT, we've done classes with Huston Tillotson. We work with various different organizations to try to break down what those stereotypes are," said Detective Crumrine.

The 12 sex crimes detectives work between 700 to 800 cases a year. Closing an investigation takes good old fashion police work and increasingly, help from technology and forensics.

"The case we talked about, the one at Odom Elementary, we had very little to go on. It happened at night in the dark, the victim did not get a good look at the suspect. The main thing we had to go on was forensics. We got DNA from the same exam which hit on CODUS and we had a suspect in jail within a week. Without that forensics, the case would have gone on, we would have put hundreds and hundreds of hours into that case trying to solve it," said APD Lt. Michael Eveleth.

After 11 years, Holling says life is good now.

"I'm glad I'm alive," she said.

Holling earned her Ph.D doctorate in education from the University of Texas. She also has a master's degree. She speaks to inmates and cadets about her experience, hoping they and other survivors can learn from her ordeal.

APD also sits on a Sexual Assault Resource and Response Team that includes the District Attorney's Office, sexual assault nurse examiners, and victim advocates.

The above and beyond approach is not practiced by all departments. That's why the APD Sex Crimes Unit has earned many awards and recognition from several groups including the international chiefs of police, the national institute of justice, and the human rights watch.

While stranger on stranger sexual assaults are high profile and cause more alarm, police say it's important to remember that 94 percent of all sexual assaults are non-stranger cases.

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