A woman told police she was sexually assaulted by her doctor, and her case was treated similar to a traffic ticket.
What happened to her is not isolated, and it’s the reason there is a state-wide push to change the law. Texas is one of six states in the nation that classifies sexual assault like a petty crime, unless it rises to the level of rape.
Cassandra Perez became aware of the shortcomings in the law nearly three years after she filed a police report.
Her police report was about a doctor’s visit when she was 35 weeks pregnant.
“That didn’t even cross my mind that he would ever do something like that,” she said. “That was just terrible.”
On May 3, 2016, Perez said she asked her Gynecologist Dr. Juan Villarreal to check for a lump she felt under her arm. He agreed to take a look.
During the examination, she claimed Dr. Villarreal put his mouth over her breast. In the moment, she was lying on an examination table and strapped to a machine that monitors fetal contractions.
“I was laying down, looking like that (she gestured toward the ceiling) and that’s when he was I guess checking me, and that’s when felt a latch, like his mouth, and I freaked out,” she said.
Alarmed by what she felt, she said she sat up and pulled her shirt down. She told police the doctor apologized to her.
Dr. Villarreal has adamantly denied that occurred, said Ron Barroso, his criminal defense attorney. He never would perform an exam of a patient without another staff member in the room, Barroso added. Perez said no one else was in the room at the time.
She filed a police report three days later with the Corpus Christi Police Department. The report detailed her account of the incident, but nothing indicates police contacted Villarreal, according to a copy of the police report file. Up until a few weeks ago, Perez did not know what happened to her case other than that it was no longer active.
6 Investigates researched Perez’s case and the case of another woman after a Nueces County grand jury indicted Dr. Villarreal in October on three counts of felony sexual assault. The allegations involved three other female patients. Dr. Villarreal has denied those accusations. Because of the indictment, the Texas Medical Board has temporarily suspended Dr. Villarreal’s medical license.
Perez’s criminal case ended up at the prosecutor’s office for Corpus Christi Municipal Court, which is where traffic tickets and code enforcement violations land. That’s where the case expired.
The prosecutor’s office does not comment on criminal cases, said Buck Brice, Corpus Christi’s assistant city attorney.
Those types of cases are frustrating, said CCPD Detective Mike Manzano.
“They are frustrating for not only the victims, but they’re frustrating for everybody involved. We operate within the letter of the law.”
In Texas, the law classifies that kind of behavior as assault by contact, which is a Class C misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is a $500 fine.
“It’s horrific, right? I think you have to keep in mind also that most victims of these offenses don’t report to police ever,” said Christopher Kaiser, director of public policy for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
“And so when somebody does and the response is that dismissive to say that this really wasn’t a serious crime, we really can’t do anything about it. I think feels like a slap to the face to a lot of the victims out there.”
Kaiser along with the organization is leading efforts to change the law, which he said benefits the perpetrator.
“If you just get a traffic ticket for this kind of an offense, you’re free to do it again and there’s nothing on your record that indicates anything more than just a citation from municipal court.”
Under the atmosphere of accountability created by the “Me Too” movement, Kaiser said victims are now more comfortable than ever to talk about how the system has failed them.
Senate Bill 194 would be a step in the right direction, he said. It would create a new criminal offense in Texas called indecent assault- a way to pursue accusations.
So far, it has the support of the Texas Senate Judicial Committee, which unanimously agreed last week for the bill to move ahead for a full senate floor vote.
On the House side, Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) is backing an identical bill.
As the legislative debate plays out in Austin, back in Odem, Perez said she continues to deal with the trauma of her experience.
She decided not to go back to Dr. Villarreal, and she had trouble finding a new OBGYN that close to her due date.
“They would ask me how far along was I and I would tell them and they would say, ‘ohh, let me find out.’ And they would call me back and say, ‘sorry,’” she said. “Nobody, nobody wanted to take me.”
An on-call doctor at the hospital ended up delivering her baby boy.
She doesn’t know the name of the doctor.