The Good Detective and How He Helped Me Find My Voice
What I am about to write is not something I have openly shared before but I feel that now is the time to do so. As our radio waves, newsfeeds and newspapers spill over with each nauseating Roastbuster development and the media focus turns to criticising the Police response I am afraid of the damage being done. Images have begun circulating social media which portray the NZ Police as pro-rape and apathetic towards victims. I am concerned that this misleading portrayal will reinforce victim’s fears that if they speak up about rape they will be disbelieved and blamed, and that they can expect the Police to be judgemental and uncaring. At this rare moment when the whole country seems to be talking about something that’s usually swept under the carpet, I want to tell my story in the hopes that survivors do not lose all trust in those who have the power to stand beside us when we find our voices.
This story is not meant to convey that laying rape charges is easy, nor that all experiences with the police are as positive. We live in a world full of incorrect ideas about how someone who is being or has been raped should behave, what causes rape and who is responsible for it. Until we address and change these ideas there will always be some people in every profession, Police included, who hold these beliefs.
But before a victim faces speaking to the police they usually first have to face their family and friends, and this is so much harder than it should be.
The first person I told about my rape (in the days following) told me “oooh, you’re naughty.”
I responded with shocked silence and shame.
The second person I told about the rape (two years later) asked me “was it good?”
Again, I fell silent in horror and regretted saying anything.
The 3rd person I told about the rape asked “Is this true?”
This time my silence was broken by the voice of the person coming from the next room who shouted “It’s true! It’s true and he raped me too!”
I dread to think the path my life might have gone down had that brave little voice (who had sworn to herself that she would never speak about what had happened) not rung out in my support, but because she did within a few days I was laying a formal complaint of rape with the Rotorua Police. Who were fucking wonderful.
Laying a complaint was hard but I could not fault the police conduct during the entire process and I have no regrets at all about doing it. Considering I had spent the past four years pushing the rape into the darkest corner of my mind it was not easy to find the words, but the investigating detectives were patient, compassionate, and really listened. From the moment I walked into that station they had my back. For several hours I sat in a small room and told the detectives what happened to me as the conversation was recorded. They asked me questions to clarify some matters, but for the most part I did all the talking. They listened, they respected what I had to say, they were calm and caring. I felt safe and believed the entire time. I could have had a support person there with me but felt strongly (as I do to this day) that I didn’t want somebody I cared about to have the details as something in their mind which would never go away. No part of the interview process was degrading except for the reality of what was being discussed – that degrading element was entirely the fault of my rapist and nobody else’s.
My interview was typed up into a formal statement, which I was given time and space to read over in order to confirm that was the statement I wanted to make and clarify any parts of the statement I felt did not clearly conveyed my experience. It was during one of these follow up meetings that one of the detectives said something which has stayed with me to this day, in a sense it is a sad reflection of the ability of our “Justice System” to effectively prosecute rapes, but still he empowered me.
“Don’t focus on getting a conviction” he said gently, “chances are we probably won’t get one – and that’s not your fault. Unfortunately Juries want to see torn underwear and bruises, and if you can’t show them that they’ll very seldom convict. If you focus on a conviction you will feel you have failed, but you haven’t. This isn’t about getting a conviction, it’s about standing up and saying this happened to me, it was wrong and I will not stay quiet.” I nodded and felt the surge of empowerment that came from having somebody take my side and say those words. This happened to me, and it was wrong, and I will not stay quiet. It meant so much to hear his voice crack saying it, especially coming from a man, and to know that he genuinely cared. It meant something to know that whatever happened now, whatever the outcome of the case – I had already won a battle with my own silence and I had someone on my side.
That Detective was right, we were never going to meet the standard of evidence that juries require to meet their image of what happens during a rape. There were no torn clothes, no doors kicked down, no screams heard by neighbours, it hadn’t happened in an alleyway and I hadn’t clawed his eyes out. When it takes four years to find a voice, the evidence the people want is gone. One of the most stressful things about the trial was that a huge amount of evidence was not admissible because it was considered prejudicial. This ‘prejudicial’ evidence included my adopted brother’s history of violence against women, including charges for other sex offences against teenage girls. It was considered prejudicial that I wanted a lock put on my door when he came to stay with us and eventually convinced my grandmother to pay for this. It was considered prejudicial that he had hurt other girls in my family in the same way. With all the context removed from the situation the jury didn’t stand a chance of coming to the true verdict.
When police say “there isn’t enough evidence to proceed” what they mean is – there isn’t enough evidence of the kind that the people want. They know the jury won’t understand why maybe you were too afraid to scream, too frozen to run and they don’t want to put you through the horrors of a trial because they have seen again and again that most rapists don’t get convicted. I think we need to seriously consider widening the scope of evidence that can be included in trials relating to sex crimes, where one person’s word against another is so often what it all boils down to.
Walking into the courtroom to give evidence would have been almost impossible had it not been for the court official whose job it was to lead me into the courtroom and to the stand “just look at my feet and follow where I walk” he whispered “so you don’t have to look up and see him.” By my side was my Victim Support person, a volunteer who was also the lovely wife of my Detective W. This calm, sweet woman was there to sit behind me in court so I was not alone, although by law she was forbidden to say anything to me or touch me if I cried (something else to think about changing) – her job was to make sure I wasn’t standing there alone.
Giving evidence was quite surreal and it all seemed to be over quickly, I gave my statement in the morning and in the afternoon was cross examined – which was a process that more than any other element of our justice system needs to be changed. The way rape complainants are cross examined is revolting and traumatic. I worried that I would make a mistake or forget something important, but once I was up there and talking I realised that I knew what happened better than anyone, because I was there. When being cross examined about being raped you’re being asked a lot of questions about something you are the expert on, better than anyone else because it happened to you. The questions are certainly harsh and offensive, but because I knew in my heart that I was right it was easier than I expected to be strong and assertive. I walked out of that courtroom feeling like I’d been filled with helium. I was floating, smiling and laughing in a way I hadn’t in a long time.
After I gave evidence Detective W. suggested that I head off for a few days, spend some time with family or go to the beach rather than sit through the rest of the trial which would have been very upsetting. Looking back I’m pretty sure this was the best advice I was ever given that I actually followed! While sometimes I am curious about how the trial went I am so glad not to have had to sit there and hear my rapist give evidence, to hear myself being called a liar, and I’m really glad I wasn’t there when the Jury returned their verdict of ‘Not Guilty’.
When I received that phone call I was driving back from the beach (it was legal then!) and as I put the phone down my first thought was to put the accelerator to the floor and take the next power pole at speed, but instead I went home and told my family the outcome. I didn’t cry that day, though others did. Later that afternoon Detective W. came around to my house and we walked around the garden before sitting down to a cup of tea. His genuine disappointment, anger and disbelief at the Jury’s verdict made it feel like while we had lost, we had lost as a team and that I was not alone. The police believing in me mattered more than the Jury’s belief in me – because I knew that it was the people who had all the information were able to come to the correct conclusion. At first I felt anger at the Jury for not believing me, for not being able to read between the lines of the information they were given.
Years later, when my rapist confessed what he had done to me I wanted to take out a headline in every paper in the country saying SEE! I WASN’T LYING! I wanted to write to every member of the jury and tell them they got it wrong. In time I came to realise that it wasn’t their fault we lost, they could only make a decision based on the evidence in front of them and so little of the evidence was admissible. The problem was the way sex crime trials are conducted in our country, the laws of evidence and that is what needs to drastically change before Police have any chance of improving outcomes for victims. We also need to change our culture so that people who have been raped feel that they can come forward immediately, or that they receive the right support when they do – thus increasing the likelihood of convictions.
Five years after the trial, while I was working with rape victims in Cambodia I found myself modelling my behaviour based on how Detective W had treated me. I realised that by helping me find my voice he had taught me how to help others, and I decided to write to him to say thanks for the way he and his wife treated me throughout the trial, its build up and aftermath. I told him that not only did he make a difference in my life, but that he showed me how to do the same for others. His response blew me away and is something I hope we will all stop and consider next time we write the police off as uncaring, boys club revenue gatherers.
“Hi Marnie” he said “Of course I remember you. I remember all of the people I deal with, just some of them not as well as others!!!!! Thank you for your lovely email. It’s very gratifying to know that what we do is appreciated. I have passed this email on to [his wife]. She’s not quite so active in Victim Support now as she was. We had our own tragedy in 2009 when our 23 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. So we’re still trying to come to terms with that ourselves. Now we really both know what it felt like for you [and anyone else who has ever been a victim] and I guess we all have to decide whether we keep on being victims or sort our shit out and get on with things – like you have.”
It breaks my heart that this couple who had dedicated their lives to helping the victims of crime have lost their beloved child to a thoughtless, selfish crime. I will at least do them the justice of being open about how much they helped me.
We need significant cultural change, change to how our justice system deals with sex crimes, and we need to take a good hard look at what we teach young people about sex, gender and bodily integrity. We need to become a society of people who recognises what rape is and know how to respond when it happens. Saying that the police are uncaring is not a solution. Calling the parents of offenders negligent is not a solution. Calling victims sluts is not a solution. These are just ways of making ourselves feel a little better about a sickening reality. I do not have the solution, but I do know that education leads to understanding, understanding leads to respect and that people who respect others do not rape them. Education seems like a pretty good place to start.
This happened to me, it was wrong, and I will not be quiet.