Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Efforts Behind A Rape Arrest

My town is outraged and broken after a girl was held by two boys and raped by a third in a stairwell in a high school. Parents want to know why they weren't informed of the assault, and what took so long for the alleged perpetrators to be arrested. The local paper has written multiple articles covering it. Facebook is lighting up with questions and accusations and letters to principals and the superintendent. Many plan to go to a school board meeting tomorrow night to voice their outrage and distrust in the school system. There are many, many things we do not know.

For seven years I was the sole counselor for a program that provided free counseling to child and adolescent victims of crime. Seventy five percent of the kids and teens that came through that program had an alleged sexual assault. My role was to be their counselor and advocate. I sat with many a victim questioning why this would happen to them. I bet I've assured 300 girls their assault was not their fault. I went to multidisciplinary team meetings where we staffed every case of abuse or crime against children, and sat with law enforcement, DFCS, school social workers, and the children's advocacy center as we brainstormed what more we could do. I want you to know I do not take this lightly.

There are many things we do not know about this case. I do not know the victim or the alleged perpetrator or any of the school administration that were involved (nor would I speak about this if I did). I do not know how much evidence was on the surveillance tape. I do not know if the alleged perpetrators were disciplined. I do not know if the victim was required to return to school with the alleged perpetrators before the arrests. I do not know if the culture of this school is one where kids feel safe. I do not know how many perpetrators go to that school without parents or the school knowing. I do not know if the police asked the school not to disclose to parents about the rape until after the investigation. But there are some things that I do know.

I do know that for there to be an arrest in this case many things were done right. 

For there to have been an arrest, the girl had to come forward to school personnel about the rape. That takes courage, and in many cases that means the victim thinks that someone at the school would believe her and take her claim seriously.  Many victims never report because they know they won't be believed.

For there to have been an arrest, the school had to follow child abuse protocol and report the rape to law enforcement. There have been reports that this particular school had not reported crimes to the police in the past, but this time they did. She likely sat in her school counselor's office telling her story while her counselor listened empathetically and walked her through the events that would next unfold. Then the counselor likely called and made a report to law enforcement. Believe it or not, sometimes this doesn't happen. The story could have ended there.

For there to have been an arrest, she had to have a forensic interview. That means once the school reported the rape to law enforcement, law enforcement deemed she needed a forensic interview, and someone from The Cottage children's advocacy center was contacted. They likely stopped what they were doing, came back to work, or stayed after hours, to interview her. A forensic interviewer who is trained to get and document evidence in a non-threatening and supportive environment sat with her and listened to her heartbreaking story, asking uncomfortable questions to get more information, and patiently waited while she formulated her answers. Law enforcement and a DFCS caseworker watched through a two way mirror, while another advocate from the Cottage interviewed her parent. After the interview, both Cottage employees would write a detailed report to go with her taped interview to be given to law enforcement. This interview and report can take several days.

For there to have been an arrest, she likely also had a SANE exam, a physical exam provided by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) to retrieve physical evidence from her body. Whether or not she had a SANE exam would depend on how soon after the rape she reported it, and what the likelihood would be of physical evidence remaining in and on her body. The nurse would take photographs of her body, noting any bruising or injuries, before doing an internal exam to look for semen and internal physical trauma. Often these nurses stay long into the night to complete an exam that is time sensitive. Then they compose a report filled with pictures, diagrams, and a summary of their findings.

For there to have been an arrest, law enforcement had to have an open investigation. Clarke County police likely did a thorough investigation that included looking at the school security footage, combing the crime scene, watching the forensic interview, interviewing school personnel (and likely asking them not to speak about an active investigation to preserve the accurate memories of witnesses and not pollute them with hearsay), interviewing each alleged perpetrator individually, and reviewing reports from the Cottage staff and SANE nurse. Then once they'd collected all their evidence that pointed to the alleged perpetrators, they have to present it to the District Attorney's office to make sure it can be prosecuted. Unbelievably rape is a hard crime to prove, as even physical evidence can be waved off as consensual. If there is not enough evidence, they will be turned away to produce more, or police and the DA may decide there is enough evidence to arrest for a lessor charge but not rape. All this while working on multiple other open cases that all have an equal amount of urgency for the safety of the general public. As you know, many rape cases take months or years to get an arrest, and tragically many rapists are never arrested.

After all this, The Cottage is likely providing ongoing counseling for the victim and support to her family. Someone from the DA's office is likely letting them know of any court dates that the alleged perpetrators have, and what their rights as crime victims are. Another may be helping her write a victim impact statement to read in court if she would like, or prepping her for potential testimony.

The fact that this all happened within a month is a positive sign to me. It's one of the successes. This system is a complicated machine with many cogs, all of which must do their part to result in what everyone wants: safety for the victim, and justice for the perpetrator.

I think it's wonderful that people are outraged about this case. I wish people were outraged about EVERY sexual assault that ever happens, and I wish that outrage was directed toward perpetrators and a culture that reinforces that consent is a grey area. 

I agree that there are many questions that would be helpful to know the answers to. I also have questions about this case, and I would naturally be concerned if my kids were attending that school. I don't mean to minimize that aspect of this. But before we assume that this was an elaborate multi-agency cover up or another in a long series of failures to protect our kids, I'd also like to explore the idea that many of the people involved did exactly what they were supposed to. These are thankless jobs with low pay, few perks, and fewer thanks, and with all the intense community scrutiny for anyone involved in this case, I'm guessing this is a time when some thanks could really come in handy.





Monday, February 1, 2016

Mama got a haircut

Last week I colored my hair. I dared my hairdresser friend to do something The Husband would notice, so he made me an auburn brunette.



I love it. I thought The Boy might be weirded out, since it took him a long time to adjust when I went from long to short last year. I didn't warm them ahead of time, I just came in the house videoing.

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                                "Did you notice I have on shorts?" Clearly he's not traumatized.

And yes, The Husband did notice, but he did not authorize the use of his picture or video on this blog post.
                                                    So The Boy reenacted it for you.
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                                             "Hello there, dark hair. What happened there?"




Friday, January 15, 2016

Taking Kids To The Grocery Store

On Monday I took both boys to the grocery store for our weekly shopping. I should have just driven my car into the glass doors and through all the aisles, that would've been cheaper and less messy.

The Boy had made a paper polar bear at school that he was super excited about. Sometimes I don't let him take a toy into a store, explaining that if they sell that same thing there they might think we didn't pay for it. As we pulled up at Publix he said "Do they sell art at Puglix?" When I asked him what he meant, he said he wanted to take his polar bear in to play with in the cart. I assured him they didn't sell polar bear art (but how sweet is that?) and he could take it in if he kept up with it.



The Boy started asking for a cookie as soon as we walked in. Hearing that, BeYoYo started asking for a "kiki" too. "Kiki! Kiki!" he repeated. I told them they'd have to behave for two aisles to get their kikis. Kikis ain't free, boys. Not understanding that, BeYoYo threw his sippy cup on the floor in anger. Then we passed the BOGO section, which had the little packages of cut up cantaloupe. The Boy asked for some, and I put two packages in the cart. Before I knew it, he'd torn into one of them and was eating cantaloupe in the cart. Seeing this, BeYoYo starting screaming "BIE! BIE!" (bite bite), and The Boy started passing cantaloupe pieces up to his brother in the front of the cart. I surveyed the situation and surmised that this could buy me some time, and I started maneuvering quickly around the produce section. "Do you want navel oranges or cuties?" I asked The Boy. My voice said leisurely and patient, but my hands and feet moved quickly. A stranger told me BeYoYo was only wearing one shoe. I assured her I had the other in the diaper bag. Who has time to put a shoe on a kid in a cart when you're rushing to finish before someone melts down? The Boy played with his polar bear.

We carried on for several minutes, them entertained by cantaloupe dripping down their chins, and me speedily tossing things in the cart where they would fit. Y'all, before I had kids there was a grocery list. There was a rough meal plan for the week, and there was a coupon notebook. I strolled down the aisles at a leisurely pace, referencing my list that included sale items and which coupons corresponded to them. I checked to make sure that my coupon for granola bars was indeed for the 12 pack I had in my hand before putting it in my cart, which might have been organized by package type. Now it's a mad dash like the middle of a horror movie, moving as fast as I can and tossing in any items that are on sale. Or that are close by. Or that look healthy. I might as well call Publix and ask for one of everything.

We made it through 2 aisles before they got restless. Ah, it's time for a cookie! I announced. We headed back over to the bakery to get a cookie, then back to where we left off. This process is not efficient to say the least. They inhaled their cookies in about 7 seconds, before we even finished that aisle. Mysteriously the cookies contributed to mass amounts of shirt crumbs but they bought me exactly 0 minutes of shopping. If Stephen Hawking wanted to discover black holes of time, he should have researched giving a kid a cookie at the grocery store.

The Boy chatted endlessly about his paper polar bear. "Look mom! He's doing a flip! Wheee!" BeYoYo continually threw anything he could get his hands on out of the cart and into the floor. He'd sign milk, then when I'd give it to him he'd throw his cup on the floor and laugh. Then when he'd sign it and I refused to give it to him he'd shriek. Another stranger let me know that BeYoYo only had on one shoe. I smiled, thanked her, and told her I had the other one. "It takes a village!" I said, as we sped away.

We saw at least 4 people that we knew, not to mention the ones that might have seen us but walked the other way before we made eye contact. A friend from church, one of my clients, The Husband's former coworker, and one of The Boy's friends all stopped and spoke. Hello, small town. Mothers that we didn't know gave me the sympathetic eyes that said they knew the struggle. As I apologized for being in one woman's way, she said "No, no. I have two that aren't with me today. I'm going as slow as I can because this feels like vacation."

Three fourths of the way in BeYoYo started signing all done. That's the cue for "pick me up. Now." When I told him we weren't all done, he signed please. Pitiful of all pitifulness. Then the shrieking started. That's his new trick when he's not getting what he wants. So I opened a box of cereal and gave them each some. "Mo! Mo!" BeYoYo said, for more. I charged The Boy with doling out more for him, as we moved on to the frozen food section, but BeYoYo cried because he wanted to do it himself. The Boy whined that his polar bear wasn't able to get any cereal because his brother was hogging it all. So I facilitated that between putting waffles in the cart and checking the expiration date of the milk. "Mo! Mo!" followed by "mo" shrieking.

Then The Boy said he had to go to the bathroom. "Sorry" he said, after I sighed. I bent down to his level and told him he did not do anything wrong. Could we toss a little guilt in the cart, too? So I picked up BeYoYo, who was happy to be out of the cart, then I held The Boy's hand to help him get out. He stepped on a frozen pizza as he was climbing out, and I tried not to wince. We went to the bathroom, where BeYoYo insisted on washing his hands too (good call, kid).

How long do marathons take? 5 hours? Because that's how long we were at the grocery store. At this point in the grocery trip people should start passing out little cups of water and cheering you on to the finish line. Maybe offer half a banana for sustenance. Maybe someone could hold up a "almost there" poster, would that be too much to ask?

We were almost ready to check out, but I grabbed a 4 pack of wine in a can because I needed it, and because I didn't trust us with a glass bottle. I had BeYoYo in my arms and The Boy trailing alongside. BeYoYo wanted to get down, but I knew he'd run away, so I was holding him in one arm horizontally. We pulled up to the check out, and an angel from Heaven (or Publix) appeared and started unloading our cart for me. Hallelujah. But then he held up the empty cantaloupe container and asked suspiciously "what was in this?" I told him it was cantaloupe. He said "did you eat it?" as though I'm in the habit of just purchasing empty containers. "Yes", I told him. "They ate it, and I'm going to pay for it." He seemed confused as he put it on the conveyor belt. Next he got to the open box of cereal. "Did you open this also?" MY GOD HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN A CHILD HERE BEFORE? "Yes" I tried to smile at him, while BeYoYo squealed to get down, and I turned around to see that The Boy had his mouth on the nearby hand rail. I asked him to stop, and told BeYoYo he could not get down. He shrieked.

The bagger who had never seen a human child in a grocery store then grabbed from the cart the little wax paper pieces that the bakery had given us the cookies on, and in one swift motion also grabbed the paper polar bear and wadded it up with the wax papers headed for the trash. Time stood still as I shouted "That's his art! That's his art!" His stood and stared at me. "That's his art in your hand! That paper isn't trash, it's art!" I looked at The Boy to see if he'd noticed, and his eyes were big with worry. The bagger saw the crumpled art in his hand, uncrumpled it, and handed it back to me. "Sorry" he said. "I didn't know." I assured him it was okay, then I showed The Boy that it could be fixed. He was fine, and later he said that maybe I had turned into a polar bear for a minute.

By this point the groceries had made it on the conveyor belt, no thanks to me.  I made it up to the cashier, who looked at me and said "Do you have your hands full?" Just because you yell at ONE bagger that he was trying to throw away your kid's precious artwork, and just because you have ONE wriggling, squealing toddler in your arms and another kid mesmerized nearby people start to think you have your hands full. I smiled and nodded. "One day you'll look back on this and appreciate it." she said, which is useless, and implies that I don't appreciate it already.  You don't tell someone standing in the middle of a tornado how beautiful the weather is. I smiled a big southern smile and said "I already do appreciate it. Some days more than others." Now give me my groceries and my polar bear, and we'll be on our way.

When we got home it was almost dinner time. The Husband came out to help me unload groceries, because he is great at that. But I handed him children instead, and told him I'd get the groceries. "Were they bad?" he asked. "No, but they're little and there are so many of them." I answered. They were covered in cantaloupe juice, cookie crumbs, and little pieces of cereal. Seeing my exhausted expression The Husband opened me a can of wine as I unloaded. "Did you get anything for dinner?" he asked, with baited breath. In all seriousness I replied "I have no idea."

Monday, January 4, 2016

Urine Luck

A group of school counselors in a nearby town hired me to come and speak to them about play therapy (like a professional), and today was the day. I was SO excited, because I love public speaking, and I love play therapy. I had packed up some games and some handouts and had everything ready.

Then about 30 minutes before it was time for me to leave I started having symptoms of another urinary tract infection. I had some serious frequency and urgency, I peed about 45 times, and truth be told, I peed my pants. 



Our sitter came, and I quickly ran in our room to change. I had on black stretch pants and didn't have time to compose a whole new outfit, so I just grabbed my black Cuddl Duds and let those be black pants for today. I had on a long-ish shirt, so I was hoping I wasn't looking like a woman trying to pass off Cuddl Duds as pants, which I was. Plus, it was black on black, so that all blends together, right? 

I went to tell The Husband goodbye. He thought I'd already left, so I explained to him that I'd been peeing every 5 minutes and wetting my pants. "How am I going to give this hour-long talk if I have to pee every 5 minutes?" I snarled at him, like it was his fault. "Well," he said "just tell them in the beginning, 'to keep things interesting, I'm going to be sporadically running out of here, because that's what kids might do when you're working with them.'" Thanks, but let's call that Plan B. 

So I hollered bye to the sitter and dashed out. I called my BFF Kati from the car and explained the situation. "You need some Depends" she offered. I didn't know where the place was I was going, and I didn't know if I would have time to stop somewhere to get some OTC meds. "You don't have time not to" Kati suggested. The Dollar General was the only thing on the way, so I was hoping they'd have some UTI meds and I wouldn't have to seek out a real pharmacy somewhere out of the way. 

I got to The General in about 10 minutes, where I parked and promptly realized I didn't have my wallet. I called The Husband, who confirmed it was at home in the diaper bag. I had diapers in my car and no baby, but the wallet was at home in the diaper bag. So as I was debating if I should now turn around and go back home to get my wallet, and then stop somewhere and risk being late, or if I should just forge on and risk peeing my pants during a professional presentation, I spotted a twenty dollar bill in my cup holder. Oh, miracle of miracles. I forgot I'd spontaneously gotten cash back when I made my bank deposit this morning! Thank you, baby Jesus and the FDIC. 

I went in The General, stopped by the bathroom (naturally), then found they did indeed have AZO fast acting urinary relief.  Hallelujah, Amen. I quickly read the label, which said it can cause stomach upset so you better take it with food. I hadn't eaten lunch, and surely didn't want stomach upset during my presentation on top of the pants peeing. So I went quickly to the food section and chose some trail mix and an apple. I was rushing, but not quite running in the store, kind of like a loser on SuperMarket Sweep. Then horror of all horrors I had to DO MATH IN MY HEAD to make sure I had enough money for my items like it was the 1990s. Thankfully my math skills were validated when the cashier told me my total. Still living like it was the 90s, I tossed in a birthday cake chapstick as a reward. Woohoo!

I went to the car and immediately took my meds like a strung out junkie who can't wait to get home. I told Siri to get us going, just in time to get stopped by an incoming train. I had plenty of time to take a picture of it for you. Holy heck the first people problems were mounting. When the train was gone I was on my way. I flew down back roads, partly because I was afraid I'd be late and partly because I had to pee. 



Turns out the place was closer than I'd thought and I got there with time to spare. I sat in the car for a few minutes to decompress, but I turned the car off when I got to thinking how I didn't have my wallet, and only about $5 in potential gas money on me. I was starting to sweat, thanks to the stress and the Cuddl Duds. I went in and went to the bathroom just in time to start my presentation. And I'm proud to say that I didn't pee my pants or have to run out of the room the whole time. Whew! I don't think God cares if I pee my pants or not, but I thanked him for it just the same. 





Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Year In Quotes, 2015

When The Husband and I went to Alaska I lost my phone in a snow drift. For 24 hours I was living like it was 1998. I have to confess I was grieving a little, mostly over losing my running list of quotes for the year. First people problems all day long. You might remember the lists from 2014 or 2013, where I wrote down ridiculous things The Husband or I said to our kids and offered them out of context.



Here are a few gems that I do remember from that list, so I present to you Quotes from 2015, abridged version. 

"Let's see if we can rot your brains out today."

"It's not really nice manners to put your penis on someone else's head."

"I'm a princess and this shower is my castle. It's surrounded by alligators that eat whiney children."

"Don't put him in the dryer."

BeYoYo says "dot dot" for "night night" and calls his pacie a "bop", so we are continually saying "Bop is for dot dot". 

"He said he can't sleep because when he swallows it feels like there's beef jerky in his ear."

"I need you to make another noise. That's enough of that one for today."

And my personal favorite...
"If you have to put a grasshopper on someone's penis, it needs to be yours."