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  • memories

    Last night brought back some memories for me, so I'm having a hard time concentrating this morning and I didn't sleep well last night.

    You see, a family from our church has two daughters still living at home, 21 and 18 (they also have 3 younger boys but the story is about the young ladies). I have known them since they were babies. The younger one just graduated from high school and is going on a road trip with friends to California before heading off to college in the fall. Her parents told her that to get their permission for the road trip, she had to contact me and get training on using pepper spray (OC).

    "Absolutely," was my answer. In fact, my ex-cop mind automatically thinks about the worst that could happen to someone, so ever since they hit the age where boys have been hanging around, I've worried about them. So I asked their dad why we shouldn't add a rape defense class; I used to go around to college dormitories and sororities to teach one.

    To sum it up, last night the parents and the two young ladies were in my basement learning about all the different stream types of OC, how to deploy it, etc., and then following up by spraying me in the face with an inert trainer so they know and understand how it works. I didn't blast them in the face like cops have to do, but I sprayed some of the 5.3 million SHU (the hottest I know of) into a paper cup and had them sniff it.

    Then we did the rape defense class. We had a frank discussion about how and when rape occurs, how to avoid situations, etc., but ended with some physical techniques to combat a rapist. By the end of the night, they were just about breaking my thumbs, flipping me off of them, simulating elbowing me in the face, etc. It was good training. They're not my little girls, but I'll still worry about them; I hope if something happens they remember what I taught them.

    But it brought back a lot of memories from my former LE career. Every cop has a niche -- some are good at finding dope, getting search warrants for dope, DUIs, solving burglaries, reconstructing traffic accidents, etc. My strength was sexual assault investigations, and one of my best skills was interviewing the victim in such a manner as to get ALL the gory details without making them feel like they had been re-victimized. Our main hospital has a special room set aside for just these types of interviews. It is not the cold, heartless hospital room you may be used to, but is painted in warm colors, has soothing art on the wall, and flowers. The room was designed specifically to help set victims at ease so they would open up and talk to me.

    I've spent thousands of hours with hundreds of victims in that little room. I've never been a victim of sexual assault, but in a lot of ways, I feel like I have. The stories I could tell you would break your heart; in fact, I'm not afraid to admit they still make me cry just thinking about them. I don't remember all their names, but I see all their faces in my mind, and I can't begin to describe what anguish really looks like.

    My very last case as a cop was a sexual assault; it was literally the last thing I did before signing off for the last time, so I will never forget her. The victim was 19 and still lived at home. She had a good relationship with her mother and had told her about it, who had encouraged her to call the police. Normally I encouraged victims to meet with me privately so they would feel more comfortable divulging details they wouldn't want to say in front of their parents, but the victim insisted her mother be there because they were so close.

    The devil is in the details, as they say, and I needed every one of them to convict the guy. She knew his name, so this one was going to be a good one to go after. Cop 101 says that to get good details from a victim, you have to establish rapport with them. In cases of sexual assault, a young female is often very uncomfortable with a uniformed male asking about a forcible sexual experience, so I always started at a disadvantage.

    But a miracle happened. Her cat walked into the room and snuggled my leg like cats do. I started petting him (Cop 101: If you make friends with someone's pets, they tend to trust you. Plus I like animals anyway). Both the victim and her mother were mesmerized, because apparently this cat doesn't like anyone but them; he was the stereotypical stand-offish cat, not affectionate at all. But here I was sitting at their kitchen table petting their cat, and suddenly he flopped down and turned over, exposing his belly for me to rub like a dog. With animals, this is a sign of significant trust; their instinct tells them to protect their underside.

    Both of them were awestruck, and I had my rapport. "Why don't you start by telling me what happened that night?" I asked as I began the interview. I interviewed her for three hours straight. I'll spare you the details, but trust me when I say it wasn't a pretty picture. Several times she clammed up and blankly stared off into space for several minutes at a time, a key sign of PTSD. I've seen it in soldiers dozens of times, and we call it the "thousand yard stare." Rape victims do it, too.

    I've learned in cases like this just to sit and be quiet. This victim was talking to me -- the absolute most critical thing for the case, and probably for her well-being -- and speaking up to encourage her would only drive her further into her shell. "Shut up and wait," I told myself. I followed my own advice, too. I knew from both training and experience that she was trying to tell me details that were so traumatic her brain wouldn't function. If I waited patiently, she would eventually force herself to talk. If I interrupted that unseen internal process, I would ruin the case and cause further damage to her psyche. Each time I recognized the thousand yard stare, I'd check my watch...

    ...and wait...

    ...and wait...

    ...and wait a little longer...

    ...four minutes...

    ...eight minutes...

    ...sometimes over ten minutes of silence. I don't know if you've ever waited for someone to start speaking for ten minutes, but it feels like an eternity. But eventually she started talking again, and just as I suspected, each time this happened it was the most painful details she had been holding in.

    At the end, she seemed almost relieved at having been able to talk about it, almost as if my interview was therapeutic for her. She thanked me profusely for listening, and seemed like a lot of weight was off her shoulders.

    To this day, I always believe that everyone who becomes a cop does so to help people, but the biggest shock to the rookies is realizing they rarely help anyone. This was an exception, and it never would have happened without her cat. I truly believe that God knew what she needed that day and caused her cat to snuggle up to me to make it happen.

    Once a week I have to drive across town from my new work for an appointment, and the route takes me past her neighborhood. I always wonder if she's ok.

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