A regular client turned good friend was sexually assaulted and asked me if I would go with her to the police station to make the report. Here is what happened.
Things to note:
1. There may be some triggers around sexual assault, victim blaming, and incompetent police officers.
2. My friend gave me permission to write this and actively encouraged me to do so, as a learning opportunity for all of you. However her name has been changed to LC for this post.
The assault occurred in a different state than where we live, so we made plans for a few days away as evening work schedules allowed for us to make the drive. In the interim, LC bravely posted about it on her facebook page, letting her extended family and friends know what happened. Already I knew this was going to be a harrowing experience for her because in response, she received dozens of well-intentioned but totally awful and counterproductive comments. After a violent experience, the last thing many assault survivors want to hear about is more violence, but there was the “let’s kill him! Let’s kick his ass!” comments about the attacker, which serve the commenter’s fantasies for revenge far more than they serve LC, the person the comment is supposedly trying to help. There was also the ill-advised attempt at optimism with the comment “just be thankful you weren’t raped” and the ever popular “why aren’t you over it yet?” I cringed at “If it was me, I wouldn’t have let it bother me that much, but that’s just my strong personality, I guess?”
It’s amazing that as common as sexual assault is and as many people we all know who have experienced it, people are largely still clueless about how to be a friend to someone who has been victimized. For the record, creating a hierarchy of assaults of which you have decided their assault is not the worst, and telling them how they should best handle their trauma based on how you would, especially when you have never actually experienced sexual trauma = bad.
LC incidentally had a date which she had to cancel. This was with a man she had not yet met in person, but had met online and had been chatting with on the phone and via text for a month or so. I thought she was more than gracious when she texted him:
I don’t know if you saw my facebook, and please don’t take this personally. I was really excited to go out with you and see you but I had a really emotional week and right now I’m just too emotionally exhausted but hopefully we can get together soon.
At first he expressed concern, saying: U ok honey? I didn’t see your facebook.
She said: I’m hanging in there just really emotionally drained :(
He then must have gone to look at her facebook, because he texted back awhile later and the tone had completely changed. He went from concerned to indignant, texting: I’m sorry to see that post. Understand but disappointed… Not all guys are like that babe.
Of all the things a new potential boyfriend could say to such news, this was one of the more obnoxious choices. It’s astounding how he turned HER assault to be about HIM. HE’S disappointed. HE feels the need to defend himself as a man. He hijacked the conversation to make is such that in addition to everything else LC had experienced and had to contend with in the aftermath of the assault, she now would also have to contend with HIS emotions, HIS disappointment about not seeing her when he wanted to, HIS fragile ego around masculinity (because apparently being emotionally drained after being sexually assaulted by a man is in and of itself an attack on all men such that in a 16 word text, 7 of them need to be spent defending men). AHHHHH!
After hearing all of this, and in thinking about our trip to the police station, I decided that I would rather be with LC as her friend, not as the sexologist/activist around sexual violence. But I did want such a person there, so on the day we went to the police, I did a google search for the crime victims center in the state/county/town where the assault occurred. Couldn’t find any. I searched for a rape crisis center. Couldn’t find any. And I’m someone who knows what they’re looking for. I’m someone who knows about these resources, know that they even exist, and that they provide services like sending a trained advocate to accompany rape and sexual assault survivors to the police station, hospital, and courthouse to be a support person, explain the procedure, answer questions, and make sure things run smoothly and the survivor is being treated fairly by police/doctors/lawyers. If I had trouble finding help, how hard must it be for people who are not professionals in the field?
Finally I found a general crisis/suicide hotline, called in, and finally got routed to someone who could help. I explained that I would be coming in from out of state with a friend and wanted an advocate to accompany us just to make sure, frankly, the police didn’t act like assholes to LC- that they didn’t blame her, get hostile or aggressive, give her misinformation (for example I had fears that they would say it had been too many days since the attack to make the report, even though that’s not true, etc.)
This woman, we’ll call her KR, asked me if I was comfortable sharing my name and my relationship to LC and when I told her my name, she chuckled. “Get out! I follow you on facebook. We are all big fans of your work. You’re a big celebrity over here” (referring to the agency she works for doing counseling, education, and advocacy around sexual assault). I felt good about this. I felt like I had an “in” and that LC would get the care and compassion she needed because I know that people who follow me on the interwebs are good people and sexual assault counselors do amazing work.
KR was helpful and explained the process very thoroughly. She said the advocate on staff that night was amazing and that we’d be in good hands. She explained that rather than meet us at the police station at a set time, we’d have to go to the police first and ask for an advocate, and the police would call them as only the police can dispatch a crime victim’s advocate. She assured me the police deal with her agency every day, and one member of her staff even has a permanent office in the police station and works there every day. I was feeling very confident about my visit to the police station with LC.
We took the drive from PA into the neighboring state and arrive at 9:15pm. We parked in a metered parking spot out front of the police station and look around for signs that would indicate if we need to put money in the meter. Alas, there were no street signs and no sign on the meter itself. We see a woman in a uniform walk by and LC asks her, “excuse me, do you know if I need to feed the meter right now?” to which she replies, “not at night”. Seeking further clarification (does “night” mean 10pm? Midnight? Now?) LC asks, “So I’m OK right now?”
The woman barks back “I SAID, not at night. It’s night, ISN’T IT?!”
LC and I just stared at each other wide-eyed at the uncalled for anger on the part of the police officer, but we didn’t say a word and began walking. She was several steps ahead of us and despite the fact that we didn’t even say anything, she turned around to continue the conversation, adding “Look, I don’t know what your problem is. You asked me if you need to feed the meter, and I said not at night, AND IT’S NIGHT!” LC just said “Ok thank you” and we continued on our way.
“Oh, my god” I said to LC under my breath after the officer was out of earshot. “This is not off to a great start”, which I said half-jokingly, because an interaction with a cranky cop about parking has nothing to do with how we would be treated by a detective when reporting a sexual assault- until it did, and we went inside and found out the cranky cop was the person we needed to talk to :/
The station was… well, it looked like this:
LC went to the tiny corner to the left, picked up the black phone to speak with the cranky officer through the Plexiglas, and was told an officer would be out in a moment to take her statement.
Not long after a man wearing baggy jeans and a too-big un-tucked polo shirt saunters over, walking slowly, with an attitudinal swagger, pushed open the blue door, sticks his head out and asks “who wants to report an assault?”
You have got to be kidding me.
LC says, “I do, but first, could you please call an advocate?” doing exactly as I told her I was instructed to do from KR earlier.
I’ll do my best to describe his face at that moment. In slow motion, he dramatically cocks his head to one side so that it’s almost touching his shoulder while at the same time scrunching his eyebrows to make an overstated look of bewilderment and says, “Huh?” (Yes, HUH! Very professional.) Then he asks… “What’s an advocate?”
Once again. You have GOT to be kidding me.
I interject, “You know, from the XYZ agency, you dispatch an advocate to sit in while crime victims make reports… you have one on staff here…”
He says, “I ain’t never heard of such a thing in my life.”
And I’m about to hit the roof.
He continues “I don’t know why you’d need one of those anyway. You just tell me your story, I type it up, and you go on your merry way.”
Correction, he goes on his “merry” way. LC goes on to deal with months of court dates, and interviews, and cross examining, and trial hearings, and being poked and prodded by nurses, and having to relive a hellish experience again and again and again. There is nothing “merry” about this.
LC says, “But I don’t just want to make a statement, I want to press charges. But I want to wait for an advocate” and this guy, with his head sticking out through the cracked open door while we stand in the cold and dirty public lobby, continues to say he has no clue what we’re talking about.
I finally just said curtly, “Give us a minute please” and I get on the phone to call the XYZ agency’s crisis hotline that I had called earlier. The responder shared my frustration that these police who work every day with their agency and have been through multiple trainings about their services would claim to have no knowledge of it. But then the breakdown continued.
Me: So I know this is not your typical protocol, but since the police won’t dispatch an advocate, can you just send one here anyway?
Her: I’m sorry, we don’t have an advocate on staff this evening.
Me: But I spoke with KR today and she assured me my friend was in good hands and that there is a person on staff tonight and she’s very good. What happened to that person?
Her: I’m sorry. I can’t give out that person’s contact information.
Me: I’m not looking for anyone’s contact information, I just want the advocate KR said would come to the police station tonight. Do you know KR?
Her: Yes I do, but she is home for the evening. You’ll have to call back tomorrow morning.
Me: Not good enough. We are from PA and we drove here tonight. We’re at the police station. She’s ready to make this statement. The police have already been rude and unprofessional and I just don’t feel comfortable doing this without an advocate.
Her: I’m so sorry. But there just isn’t anyone here who can help you.
Me: So you’re a crisis center that can’t help someone in a crisis?
Her: Please hold.
KR is patched through and tells me how appalled she is at the information breakdown from her agency, as well as the treatment from the police thus far. She says she will leave her home 45 minutes away immediately and personally meet us at the police station to handle this herself. I was so thankful that she was willing to come out late at night to help someone in need even though it was her night off. What a wonderful woman!
As we waited for her I couldn’t help but wonder that if I wasn’t me, if I wasn’t a “celebrity” at this agency, and I didn’t advocate for myself on the phone as strongly as I did, what would have happened? If a person not well-known for their work in the field of sexual violence prevention walked into a police station asking for an advocate and was told by the police there is no such thing, that person would be standing in the lobby telling their story to a dude in street clothes through a half-closed door. And if they had the wherewithal to call the agency to ask for an advocate directly, the officer’s assertion that there is no advocate would have been corroborated by the woman on the phone at the agency, and that would have been the end of that. I cringe.
While I was on the phone, I could overhear another woman making a report to the guy in the baggy jeans. She stood in the lobby and spoke to him through the blue door he had his head poking out of. I can’t tell you how many times I heard her say “I’m afraid for my life” but he just let her stand out there and talk in front of us with no privacy and all body language seemed to say that he couldn’t give a shit less. I was just so confused, so after she left I asked him, “are you a police officer?” In response he gives me, “Uh… yeah…” Ugh.
About halfway through the 45 minute wait for KR to arrive, the mean woman police officer behind the Plexiglas beacons LC over. LC walks over and picks up the phone to talk through the glass.
She asks, “what’s your name sweetie?” Encouraged that she might be nice now, LC tells her. She asks “Do you know the name of your attacker?” LC says, “Yes, but I’d like to wait for my advocate.” The woman gives her a dirty, annoyed look so LC tells her his name. Then with a raised voice and aggressive attitude, her entire demeanor changes and she asks, “How old are you?!” LC tells her. “Where do you live?!” LC tells her.
Learning she’s from out of state, she says, “We’re going to do things OUR way, the way we do them here. Look, if you want to have some “special” treatment and wait for some “special” person, no. We’re going to do things OUR way.”
With exasperation, LC said in a voice begging for mercy, “Please, I just want to wait for my advocate.” And the cop snapped back, “WATCH YOUR TONE!” LC just hung up the phone and sat back down in the lobby.
LC just kept saying to me, “This is why people don’t report. This is why sexual assault is so under-reported.” And she’s right. I found her resilience during this ordeal remarkable because she had been mistreated by not just the assailant, but also almost every single person she has had contact with since including her friends, her date, the police, and the rape crisis agency- all people who are supposed to be on her side.
When KR arrived she brought the uplifting energy the space needed. She was calm, and kind, and compassionate. She apologized again for the misinformation I was given on the phone by her agency. She asked LC how she’s feeling and listened for a good 20 minutes about how difficult this has all been. Then she explained the options from that point. She didn’t tell her what to do, or even make recommendations. She simply explained the pros and cons of column A and column B, and empowered LC to make her own decision. YES! Finally. THIS is how you engage with a survivor. 1. LISTEN 2. LISTEN.
LC decided to go to the hospital because making the statement at that awful police station, and having them take evidence photos of the bruises on her body was out of the question at that point. But there was another problem. The state has a law about how many hours after an assault takes place a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) can examine a survivor, and the clock had run out by just a few hours. This is one example where an advocate is so important, because KR was able to call ahead to the hospital, explain the situation, and get them to agree to admit LC.
We drove about 20 minutes to the hospital where LC was assigned a nurse who was very sweet. She did the examination, took photos of the bruises, and took LC’s statement. She brought her food while we waited for police to come and take an official statement in the ER.
Two burly male police officers arrived and were just ok. They did their job. They weren’t perfect (I believe one officer used the phrase “cop a feel” when asking LC about one part of the assault, and other tactless and insensitive remarks.) They also asked “Did you tell him to get the fuck away?” and “How many times did you verbally tell him to stop?” when in her narrative she described at least a dozen times where she did tell him to stop, to go away, to “leave me alone”, “Whoa there, not cool” and so on. Not to mention, “NO” is the default setting, so even if she didn’t “verbally tell him to stop”, it’s still a violation and a sexual assault because her mere presence is not an invitation.
But at least they weren’t as bad as the officers back at the station, and LC told them so. They asked he what she meant, and when she told them how she was treated, they softened their demeanor and left the room. When they returned, they said they spoke with the Lieutenant who urged us to return to the police station to file a formal complaint with Internal Affairs against those officers, their colleagues, because such behavior was substandard and inexcusable.
In the room at this moment was LC, KR, the two police officers, and me. This is another example of why having an advocate was so helpful. When the police came in to the hospital room they automatically excused KR and I until KR butted in and said “Why don’t we ask LC who she wants in the room”, knowing that in the hours we waited at the ER, LC was adamant that we both stay during the police interview, and empowering LC to make the decision that SHE wants vs. what someone else has decided for her.
Then in walks the doctor. The SANE nurse told us that because she was admitted to the emergency room, LC would have to be seen by a physician before being discharged. So the doctor comes in and starts asking LC about her medical history and any medications she’s taking, with all of us in the room which I thought was inappropriate. She listens to her heart and all of that, and before leaving looks her in the eyes and says in a heartfelt way, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” LC seemed happy that in the long string of people who have been shitty to her through this whole ordeal, here was one more person showing the appropriate level of care. But then, the doctor added, “Be careful next time.” Sigh. KR and I shot looks of dismay at each other as the doctor left the room. Sure. If only LC had been more careful not to exist in the world in a female body, this never would have happened. Unbelievable.
LC was discharged and we made the drive back to the police station where we filled out many Internal Affairs forms with many sympathetic SVU detectives who were not pleased at the treatment LC received the first time around. A formal investigation was opened against the two police officers as well as against LC’s attacker.
We left and I arrived home after 6am. In all, it was about a 10 hour ordeal. I continue to be in awe of LC, and grateful to KR for her compassion and for staying out all night comforting a stranger through an unimaginably hard time. I appreciate the SANE nurse who has a very challenging job and does it with kindness and empathy, and to the two police officers who came to the hospital and stuck their necks out to report their own colleagues’ misconduct because it was the right thing to do.