A child can cry for many reasons.
But, when a child cries because they have been picked up and thrown around and now that child has broken bones; I get involved.
When a child cries from being shaken so violently that they are vomiting due to a brain hemorrhage; I get involved.
When a child cries from the trauma of being sexually abused; I get involved.
You see Camden I have been a law enforcement officer for many years. I started “The Job” in 1986. It seemed the thing to do at the time. Many days I question that decision. The first five years on “The Job” I could not believe I was getting paid to do this. After about five years my attitude changed to that of I am definitely not getting paid enough for this abuse. People call you names, punch and kick you, try to run over you with their cars, pull knives and guns, and those were my good days. People have tried to hurt me. Some close calls. I am still here.
I have had to make far too many life changing decisions over the years. I have had to take a life. Camden, I did not take this job to hurt people. But I did not take it to get hurt either.
I have been a detective since around 1996 I think. I really do not keep track of such things. Nor do I keep track of awards and medals. They are in my sock drawer. That is where they will stay.
Camden as a detective I have investigated about every type of crime. I have worked in the property crimes section. I have bought drugs as an undercover investigator. I will not forget the day that I was wearing a wire and I was being driven around by a drug dealer who did not know my true occupation. He was introducing me to people who I then bought drugs from.
Later that evening I learned that for several hours my back-up did not know where I was. The wire had malfunctioned and if I needed any assistance during those hours well I was on my own. The Calvary would not be coming. The wire later started working and they found me. They probably should not have told me what happened. I did not do that job very long.
For several years I worked night investigations where we mostly dealt with robberies, rapes, assaults, and homicides. Crimes that had just occurred and you went home when the work was done. Sometimes that would be late the next morning after working all night. Many days I had lunch with the day guys and would then go home and get a few hours of sleep before starting all over. From there I moved to robbery where I stayed for several years.
Now I work in what is called The Exploited and Missing Child Unit (EMCU). I have been with the unit almost seven years. There we investigate cases involving the physical and sexual abuse of children. We only work child victim cases. Unfortunately we are very busy.
At EMCU we work with social workers from the Department of Families and Children. Our office is located inside the Child Advocacy Center. We are in a remodeled very large old grade school. I have both a white board and chalk board in my office.
The CAC has advocates who work with the family and with the child along with the social worker to provide services. We have six full-time therapists that work with our victims and their families. We are almost a one stop shop. Still trying to get medical into the building so that the medical exams can be done here and the evidence can be collected so that the families do not have to go to one of the hospitals. The offices and exam rooms are here just waiting on the medical team to move into the facility.
Camden, the work we do is difficult. The cases can be hard to prove and they are definitely hard on a person emotionally. People comment all the time that they do not know how I am able to do this type of work.
Detectives working in other units tell me that they could not do this type of investigation. They do not feel that they could keep their cool when dealing with the suspects we deal with. The cases can and will get to you over time.
Let me tell you Camden how I am able to do this work when others are not.
It is about the kids. The children we talk with share their deepest and darkest secrets about their abuse. They share this with you in the hope that you can help them. You definitively are not going to be able to help if you let your emotions take control over judgment. In order to help you have to be focused on what you need to do in order to build your best case. If I were to reach across the table and grab the suspect by the throat I might feel better for a moment, but I would not be helping that child.
You learn how to control your emotions. You can yell and scream and cry another time. And I do. You cannot look at these kids and not feel their pain. Their pain becomes your pain. At some point you become numb to the pain. You have to in order to continue. Barriers come up. Emotions are suppressed.
Sometimes we are successful in prosecuting these crimes. Other times we are not. That bothers me.
Over the years at EMCU I have interviewed over a thousand kids. I have probably worked around a thousand cases.
It is my job to bring the facts out of the darkness and into the light in order to help the child. Healing starts with the disclosure interview.
Camden let me tell you about two extremely strong young women I have met. I will not use their real names. This might help you better understand what I do.
I first want to talk about Stephanie. Stephanie was eight years old when I met her. It was a summer weekend and I was called at home on a Saturday to go to the office and assist patrol officers with a sex abuse case.
As often happens on the weekend the patrol officer arrived at the office with the victim before I did. Stephanie was waiting for me in a play room. An officer had also given her a couple of butterfly stickers and she brought them with her when we went into the victim interview room.
Stephanie told me about what had happened to her. Things she had never shared with anyone. Things she never wanted to talk about. Things people do not want to hear. Things that make people question how anyone can do this job.
Normally at the end of a child interview I will ask them if they have any questions for me, and that is what I asked Stephanie. Most kids say no or they have one or two questions and out the door they go. Not Stephanie. She wanted to know many things about me.
I had asked Stephanie questions about her family and who she lived with. She asked me many of the same questions. She had been paying attention.
She wanted to know all about my kids. We talked about Erin, Justin, and Amy. Stephanie learned that Amy was home for the summer from college. She learned that Erin and Justin thought they were adults and were out on their own. Since Amy was at home we talked about her the most. It was the longest conversation I have ever had at the end of an interview with a child. Was she really just eight years old?
I answered all of her questions and I was thinking how this interview was being audio and video recorded and might possibly be played in court. Oh well I guess they could redact the end of the interview.
Before leaving she had one last question. No child had ever asked me this question before nor has a child asked me since. She wanted to know if I, like her, had ever been a victim of sexual abuse. I answered that question as well.
As we were leaving the room she stopped to give me a hug. She had the two butterfly stickers in her hand. She handed me one of her stickers. She told me that she wanted Amy to have her sticker. I believe that Amy still has the notebook where she placed the sticker.
I will never forget Stephanie.
I met Mary when she was sixteen years old. Her nightmare started when she was seven. This is her story.
One day in July of 2012 Mary’s mother was looking through some of her husband’s belongings and found nude photos of Mary. When her mother questioned her about the photos Mary told her mother that her stepdad had been sexually abusing her. The police were called and Mary was taken to the EMCU office to see me.
Anytime a close family member is a suspect in a case a social worker is assigned to assist in the investigation. My friend Sarah from the Department for Children and Families was assigned to the case with me. We interviewed Mary that day and Mary was interviewed several more times over the coming months.
When we sat down with Mary, Sarah told her that she was now safe. The tears flowed. The conversation began. Mary took back her life that day.
We learned that the sexual abuse started when Mary was seven years old. It did not stop until the day we met.
Let me try to explain how long term sexual abuse occurs and why the victims feel they have no way out.
At seven Mary did not realize what her stepdad was doing was wrong. She thought every girl her age went through this with their dad or stepdad. When in middle school she realized that this was wrong.
As she got older the shame and fear she felt was used against her by stepdad.
He convinces her that it is her fault and if she says anything that the family will be broken up and that her mother will hate her.
He will tell her that if she says anything that her siblings will not have a father because he will go to prison and they will blame her.
She is told that if it became public that people would think of her differently. She is silenced, and the abuse continues. Her only way to stop it she thought was turning 18 and moving out.
What I heard from Mary during our interviews I have heard several other times from other Mary’s I have met over the years.
The suspect returned home while officers were there and he was given a ride in a police car to my office to see me. I sat down with him for a few minutes and talked. We did not get very far into our conversation when he decided that he no longer wanted to talk with me. Damn, I hate when that happens.
You see I want very much for the suspect to talk to me about the allegations. I do these interviews all the time. They do not. Most have not thought out how they are going to explain away the allegations. So they lie.
If I need to become their best friend while in the interview room then I will do that. If I can get them talking then I am winning.
The more they talk the more they lie and the bigger the hole they dig. Eventually I will point out the lies and inconsistencies in their story. Sometimes they confess. Even without a confession the lies are gold.
Not being able to talk to Mary’s stepdad made the case a little more challenging.
Search warrants were executed on the suspect’s vehicles, computers and other electronic devices. A considerable amount of evidence was found.
We conducted dozens of interviews with family and friends. We were able to find another victim and he was later charged with the sexual abuse of that family member as well.
It took about fifteen months for Mary’s case to go to trial. Mary testified at the trial. She did a great job. Many detectives, social workers, advocates, and therapist were there to support her.
As the case detective I also spent a considerable amount of time on the stand during trial. I am always relieved when the case finally goes to the jury for deliberation. I can breathe a little easier.
Leading up to trial I ask myself if I have done everything I possible could on a case. I lay awake at night beating myself up about an interview and going over things I should have asked or thinking about things that need to be done. I wonder if I have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. I ask myself what is it that I need to do to make this case better. I lived and worked on Mary’s case on and off for those fifteen months.
Unlike TV detectives who quickly solve their cases and you only see them working one case at a time real life investigators are working multiple cases. We come into work each day and find new cases, new victims. We then play case triage and try to prioritize the best we can.
I left the court house when Mary’s case went to the jury. I normally am not present when the jury comes back with a verdict. I am on to other cases by then. This case was different. I was called when the jury announced they had a verdict. I was able to make it back before the verdict was read.
He had been charged with multiple crimes that occurred over the nine year period that Mary was abused. He was found guilty on all counts. He would be spending the rest of his life in prison. He will never get out. A few months later he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. He has to serve 51 years before he is even eligible for parole.
When the verdict was announced I immediately walked out of the courtroom and headed for the elevators.
Mary followed me out of the court room. She started walking fast toward me. I could see the tears in her eyes. We hugged.
The prosecution team then came out of the court room followed by Mary’s family and friends. I told her that I would talk to her later and she turned to meet the others.
The elevator had not yet arrived so I started to head toward the stairs. As I was walking away someone grabbed my arm. I turned around and saw my friend Kelly. He was at the court house on a different case.
He had seen Mary approach me at the elevator. He said to me, “That is why we do what we do. That is what this is all about.” I nodded and headed down the stairs.
Mary is a very strong young lady and I am so proud of the person she has become. The CAC puts on a Hero’s Gala each year and Mary has been one of their honorees.
Mary has become my friend. I see her a few times each year. She will come by the EMCU office to visit with everyone. Sarah and I recently went to her house to see her new baby boy and to take gifts for the baby and her two year old son. And of course we took diapers. I got to hold the baby.
Tomorrow is Mary’s birthday. We are having lunch.
I am a better detective for having known Mary. Hell, I am a better person.
Camden I hope this gives you a better idea of what I do, and who I am.
I am very proud of the people I work with. I am proud of the work we do. Sometimes we do make a difference.
I plan on continuing doing this job for as long as they will let me. The past two years have been rough and at times I feel that I am letting the team down.
I have missed so many days the last two years. I am not yet able to carry the work load I once did. I get fatigued and many days I am at work even though I am not feeling well. My work family sees me every day and they know what I am dealing with. They have done their best to try to help.
We are on call out status at all times. I have been called into work many times to start an investigation. The last two years that has not happened as often. I wonder if it because I am the oldest person in the unit? Maybe they feel that old people should not be woken up at 2:00 A.M. Or they do not call because of my illness and they figure I need the rest to help my body heal. Maybe it is a combination. I continue to sign up for the call outs and let them know I am available.
Each night that I am on the call out list I make sure that I have clothing set out in another room so that I will not wake Christy if I have to leave. I have my gear ready including my Blues Clues notebook.
I have the phone charging on the nightstand by the bed. I check to make sure the ringer is turned up and not muted. I check the phone several times. You gotta watch out for those phone fairies. Maybe that is my OCD or maybe just my ACDC. Not sure which.
The nights that I am on call I fully expect the phone to ring, because… I know… that somewhere… out there… each night…A Child Cries.
Det. Kevin Brown
Exploited and Missing Child Unit