[Trigger warning for discussion of sexual and domestic violence] “The police are not the enemy”
This was at the top of almost every Power Point slide for a recent class I had. I am currently in training to become a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate. The 65-hour training includes presentations by judges, DAs, current advocates, SART nurses, and most recently, sexual assault detectives. I was ready to be disappointed. I was ready to be upset. I was ready to hear victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and all the other disappointing nonsense that accompanies all too many stories of sexual assault survivors when they attempt to report their assault. Instead, I was deeply encouraged and immensely proud of my local police department.
There have been so many stories of late surrounding the police. We have seen the senseless violence against peaceful protesters around the country and world; we have heard countless tales of rape victims being subjected to intense scrutiny of character; we have seen too many young people of color being unjustly killed or brutalized by officers. Every incident leads me to have less confidence in those who are entrusted to protect and serve. I have personal biases towards law enforcement as well, growing up with a police officer father and seeing the seedy, politically-motivated bullshit that runs through departments. I grew up surrounded by police officers, which was great when I got pulled over for speeding, but really shitty when I got caught someplace I wasn’t supposed to be. I saw plenty of amazing men and women who had dedicated their lives to protecting the community, and I saw the select few who were complete douchebags, sick with power. I know firsthand that most officers really do want to help, and that it is usually, like most things, a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. But the stories in the news, they are overwhelming, and even with the experiences in my life, I find myself souring on the lot of them.
But then, the ray of hope. The detectives who presented to our class were amazing and informative. Two tough guys who looked like stereotypical cops, going on and on about their plight to pursue perpetrators of sexual assault to the fullest extent of the law. They explained how and why they do what they do during investigations. They explored the reasoning behind the questions they ask. I know I have become upset when I have read or heard about the line of questioning rape survivors are bombarded with, thinking that the incessant badgering is just an attempt to make the victim of a heinous crime feel even worse about the assault. But they explained their motivations, detailing how each question and its subsequent answer add up to charges in their head. For example, vaginal penetration by a penis is a charge, but so is penetration with other items, be it fingers or objects, and each instance is another charge (i.e., if they use their finger to penetrate you three times, it is three separate charges) . Each question seems, from the outside, as a violation of the survivor, but each answer yields further counts on which to charge a perpetrator. Each answer strengthens their case, hardens their ability to put the sick fucks away, and put them away longer. They talked about how they add up years in their heads with each response, trying to get as many as possible.
It was encouraging to watch these men, with all the privilege that comes along with not only their positions, but their standings in society, being exceptionally sensitive and mindful of the plight of sexual assault survivors. They discussed the training that officers in their department go through regarding sex crimes, training that all too often seems to be non-existent in the recounts of survivors. They lauded the advocates they work with, seeing them as allies and partners in the quest to make this a world with less sexual violence. They were also honest and up front about the realities of departments, and life in general, in that sometimes, though thankfully rarely in their experience, there are officers who have had a shit day that may make missteps. They asked us to be mindful as well, willing to acknowledge that an officer responding to a sex crime may have done so immediately after responding to something just as awful, sometimes worse, and horrific, that may lead them to be less sensitive than they normally would be. They asked us to allow the officers human moments of weakness; allow them, not excuse or ignore them, but allow for them and deal with them as they come. They stressed their desire to see these crimes prosecuted to the fullest, to see these predators removed from society in an effort to keep all people, women, men, and children, safe.
We always see reports of police fucking up. We have all heard too many survivors describe truly sickening interactions with investigators after they have been assaulted. People don’t often write about things that are working the way they are supposed to, the way that is right, and just, and fair. This can lead us all to conclude that the world is falling apart around us, that the people who are supposed to protect us are doing the opposite. I don’t intend to discount the myriad ways in which this is true, but here, in this space, I wanted to let people know that there is some hope left in a world that can feel hopeless. That in this one little corner, in this one county, there are men and women in uniform who are exemplifying the type of behavior we all hope to see everywhere. And maybe, just maybe, this means they are finally listening, finally hearing the pleas, and finally making it possible for survivors of sexual violence feel safe enough to report and see justice served on their assailants. I know it’s a small step, I know this doesn’t translate to everything being peachy, but I do believe it means we are moving in the right direction. And that gives me hope.