by Robert J. Lanz LCSW
“Well, what did she expect? She ran away from home and that’s the kind of stuff that happens when you run away from home and take drugs. She had it coming,” the tall cop known as Big John said in a very matter of fact way. He was angry about having to be called out late in the evening for a paperwork nightmare on another victim that somehow “deserved” her fate.
Big John was worthy of his nickname. He stood about six-four and weighed in at around two-forty. He was big, and all of his leather and weaponry made him look even bigger. A small cop looks menacing enough with a gun, pepper spray, night stick and handcuffs hanging off his belt. A big cop seems somehow more ready to use them. And then there are the other things they don’t let you see, tucked away in some boot or secret pocket somewhere, contributing to the aura of violence. In another time, in another place, a guy like John might have gladly worked for some fascist despot and loved his uniform more than he loved his wife.Big John was obviously disturbed by the victim and so was I, but for very different reasons. I guess the little girl who ran away and then got raped in a muddy football field wasn’t thinking too clearly that night. She was probably angry with her folks or trying to fit in with the crowd, or maybe she was just looking for a chemical escape when she took the drugs that were offered to her that night. She probably expected to get high, meet a nice guy and maybe have some romance that could even turn into love with a little luck and enough time. In her mind, anything was going to be better than whatever she was feeling when she jumped out her bedroom window as the desperate night began. Or so she thought. She probably didn’t expect the sex to be so violent. And she probably didn’t think it would take place in the rain on a muddy football field where in another fantasy she might have been a cheerleader doing handsprings while hoping for a home team win and a shot at one of the guys making it happen.
She was about as far removed from her fantasy as she would ever be when she arrived in the ER naked from the waist down, covered in mud, her shirt soaked with rain. Another case of raw sex. No romance. No kissing. No foreplay. Not even some false promises to fantasize about. The guy went right to the source, just pulled her pants down, ripped her panties off and forced his way in. When he was done, there wasn’t any holding or touching or whisperings of love. Not even a kiss on the cheek in some small gesture of repentance. Not from this guy, who probably had as much pent-up anger after the assault as he had before. In that sense, the night wasn’t much of a success for either of them. They would each end the night no closer to finding what they had set out looking for just a few hours earlier, their fantasies reaching an ugly conclusion on a muddy field, hers twisted into a savage nightmare.
I have no idea what the boy did when he went home and looked into the mirror, so I can only wonder. Did he see in that late night reflection the criminal that he’d become? Did he feel he had accomplished his task, even though it didn’t diminish the anger he took with him when he left home? Could the young man have been so evil as to try it again with another girl to see if the next time would be better?
Or, and this is the option I hoped for, would he realize what a mess he really was and try formulate a true apology, and make a sincere promise to get some help? In my deepest, darkest fantasy, in that zone where he and I shared a common rage, he would just jump off a high place or set himself on fire and be out of our lives forever. At least if he did that I wouldn’t have to see another of his victims in the ER like the one who wanted to be loved and kissed on the cheek, but instead was brutally raped and kicked in the face.
When the nurse brought her into my office, she was so covered with mud I couldn’t tell what she actually looked like. On the left side of her face was a distinct footprint left in mud, like a primitive painting by a guy who knew less about love than a dog who has been beaten every day of his life. Tears began to roll down her cheek, dissolving the mud and the print away, so I knew I wouldn’t have time to get the police photographer down there to capture the image on film. I found the Polaroid I use to document child abuse and took a couple shots of the tread marks before they were washed away, then I gave her the towels and soap she would need to finish the job. When I watched the Polaroid come to life, I knew the picture was something I would never be able to wash from my mind and she certainly wouldn’t either.
Within five minutes, with Big John just standing by, I had come to hate a person I would probably never meet. I felt as protective of this girl as I would my own daughter, but the hate I felt for her attacker was overwhelming. I resent discovering bad feelings in myself. I’d rather just not acknowledge them, but that wasn’t possible, and I found myself ready to kill, or at least seriously harm the stranger who did this. Big John, a giant filling my space, became the perfect target for my rage because of his attitude, his insensitive comments and just because he was there.
I led him into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and an attempt at a little male bonding. I like doing that with certain people. It makes for a better working relationship and sometimes, there really are advantages to being a man in a cop’s world. A lot of cops don’t like to male bond with females. It doesn’t work. Sometimes it doesn’t work with males either.
“Can you believe that stupid bimbo?” John said. “She takes drugs, gets raped in a field, gets beat up and now she doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Hearing him express his coldhearted ignorance put me close to crossing a behavioral line I’d set for myself. Instead of male bonding, I was considering some male on male violence, despite the size and weaponry of my prospective opponent. I knew that even if I could throw a good first shot, I probably couldn’t kick his ass, but at the time, it was what I wanted to do. Fortunately, some survival instinct kicked in and I wondered if there wasn’t a better direction from which to mount an assault on Big John’s ignorance.
I felt my anger subsiding. There had already been enough macho stupidity thrown around that night, enough lack of impulse control and any more from me wasn’t going to help my relationship with the cop. It sure wasn’t going to help the little girl who was now depending on me to do the right thing for her. So far that night, the males in her life had only been thinking of themselves, and I refused to be a part of that selfish group.
“John’s your name?” I asked the cop.
He nodded. By the way our eyes met I could see he sensed this was about to be an confrontational experience. He rested his hand on the butt of his service revolver, a gesture I was probably more aware of than he was. It was a signal that we were each at the same level of anger and that a battle was about to begin. I was smaller, but he could see that I was going to take the first shot. An armed giant is always a little anxious about a smaller guy who is willing to be that bold. With one hand on his gun, he rested the other on his handcuff case. These were his fighting tools. Words were mine.
“According to your thinking, she had it coming,” I said.
His eyes narrowed into belligerent slits and he nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Well, let’s take a look at your idea for a minute, John. The idea that it’s somehow the victim’s fault. She was a victim of assault and rape and then doesn’t want to talk to you about it because she knows how guys like you think. She figured out you’d think she’s stupid and should have seen it coming but went ahead and got raped anyway. All rape victims are at least partly to blame, right, John?”
“I didn’t say that,” he said, folding his arms defensively.
“Maybe not in so many words. But let’s say one night after work you decide to go for a jog and you just have your sweats on, no gun or badge. You’re jogging through the woods alongside the park, like you always do and a guy, let’s make it a big guy, bigger than you even, jumps out of the bushes and hits you over the head with a baseball bat. You go down, knocked unconscious. The first thing you feel when you wake up is his Johnson going up your ass but you can’t do anything about it because he’s got your hands and legs tied up. And after he gets through, he kicks you right in the face and leaves a big boot print on your cheek before he runs off into the night. What are you going to do about it?”
He looked down at the floor, pondering the imponderable.
“Are you going to run right to the station and tell everyone there you just got raped? Get all your friends to give you emotional support while you look for the guy?”
“No way,” he said softly, without eye contact.
“Why not? Are you afraid they’ll think it was your fault?”
“I wouldn’t tell anybody.”
“Why not? It wasn’t your fault was it? Maybe it was, jogging around the park after dark without your gun. What did you expect?”
“Well I wouldn’t expect to get raped. I’m not going to talk to you about something like that.”
“You mean you wouldn’t come down the hospital to get checked out? Make sure you didn’t get injured in some way? Get some medicine so you don’t get an STD? We could have a talk about what happened. You could tell me all about it.”
“Fuck that,” John said, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’d go to San Bernardino or someplace. I wouldn’t tell anyone around here.”
“What are you afraid of? That your cop buddies might think you liked it?”
He started to take a step towards me, but stopped. I saw the anger drain from his expression.
“All right, I get it. I’m an asshole.”
I let him live with his assessment for a few seconds before I spoke.
“Well, I don’t know if you are or not. But you were acting like one.”
“So what am I supposed to do about it?”
“You could start by apologizing to that little girl in there.”
And he did. He went into the girl’s room with some towels and soap and water and helped her clean the rest of the mud off her face and from her hair. He finished just as the doctor showed up to do his evaluation and collect evidence. Big John left the exam room and came into my office where I was busy with the necessary legal forms. I didn’t look up for a minute but when I did, Big John was wiping at his eyes with his handkerchief. He looked at me and I pushed my papers aside. He didn’t seem to be trying to hide his feelings any more .
“When she was all cleaned up, she looked just like my daughter.”
“And before she looked like somebody else’s.”
“I got it, Bob. I got it. Can we not tell anyone this happened?”
I never learned what became of the young rape victim, or if her attacker was ever brought to justice, but Big John became one of my best friends. Over the years, I got to see all the important pictures of his daughter as she progressed through life. Wearing her cheer leading outfit. Graduating from high school. All decked out for the senior prom. I feel like I know her myself. And even though I never actually met her, I grew to really like her, just like I did with her dad.
Years later, Big John became one of the department’s training officers and part of his job was to bring the new guys by the ER and introduce them around. If I was on duty, he always made a point of telling them to treat me with respect. I don’t think he ever told them why.
I hope none of them ever find out.