One evening as I worked at Anderson Police Department, the phone rang and I picked it up. On the other end of the wire, from another state, came the voice of a mother of three. She asked specifically for me, having received my name from another officer on the day shift. She sounded desperate as she told me her story--a story of sexual abuse of her 7-year-old daughter, Brittani, by the child's father. The child confided in her mother about her father's messing with her in several states including Anderson, Indiana, but Brittani refused to talk with anyone else about it. Counseling had not helped, nor had taking Brittani to the police in her home state. Mom described her daughter's low self esteem, her poor performance in school. She was convinced her daughter's healing from the abuse would come only when the abuser was punished for his misdeeds. She was calling me to beg me to interview her daughter.
I talked quite a while to this mother. I was uncertain. Would Brittani open up to me? She had been in counseling for a year, refusing to speak to the therapist about her abuse. The family would have to make a five hour drive from a northern state just to get to Anderson. My time with the child would be short. Still, the caller insisted, would I please just try? She sounded at her wit's end, desperate. I agreed to meet with Brittani in a few weeks, during Thanksgiving break from school.
The day and the time for the interview came and passed; I remember I was not surprised no one had arrived. I regarded that phone call as just another case of a random request for attention. A half hour later, Brittani's mother called. Snowy road conditions delayed them and there remained another hour's drive to Anderson. Would I still be able to interview her daughter? I told her that I had cleared my schedule, to not worry about being late.
As the family arrived at the police department, I met them all in the lobby. I directed those who came with them to the break room. I escorted Brittani on a tour of the police department. I sat her on a police motorcycle and let her hit the siren; I showed her the 911 center. I took her to my interview room, a room specially equipped for child interviews. It contains a comfortable couch, chair, table and lamps as well as a small wooden rocking horse. I fired up the video camera on the wall, and Brittani continued to talk about fun things. Gradually, I guided the conversation to the time when she lived in Anderson. She began relating experiences she had here in Anderson, when her father lived with the family. She described things she liked; things she didn't like. She opened up painful memories. Eventually, Brittani described in explicit detail the painful experience of her father's abuse. She talked about bad physical and emotional feelings it caused. She told me the pain and the unfamiliar feelings. She expressed anger, sadness, and confusion. Brittani showed herself as the most convincing victim I'd ever encountered.
I changed the topic back to discussions of good times and happy activities as I wound down the interview. I thanked her for offering me her friendship. As we walked back to where her family waited, she grabbed my hand. We walked together hand in hand; she appeared relieved and happy.
I spoke with her mother for a few minutes in private and showed her the video of her daughter's interview. Mom cried. She could not believe her daughter given so much detail, because to her mother she had only hinted of the abuse. She begged me to do something to punish her ex-husband. She feared he would abuse the young children of his new wife. We cut short our talk because the family needed to drive directly back home that very night.
As Mom and I returned to where her family was waiting, the child ran directly over to me and grabbed my hand. She clung to my hand as I escorted the family to the lobby. As we approached the lobby, Brittani tugged on my hand. I saw that she wanted to tell me something. I leaned down so she could speak into my ear. She whispered, "Are you married?" I'm sure my face must have betrayed my curiosity. I said, "Why do you ask?" She tugged again. I leaned down. She whispered, "Cause, I need a daddy!"
A couple of years later, I got a letter from Brittani's mother. She enclosed a picture of a happy looking nine-year-old on her birthday. Her father, the previous year, confessed to molesting her and was sent to prison. The woman he'd married, who had three young daughters, divorced him.
So often over my eighteen years of investigating child sexual abuse, people have exclaimed to me, "I don't know how you do that kind of work!" They can't know the memories I have of children like Brittani. I keep her little picture in my desk.
Every child needs a mommy and a daddy. Some only have mothers and fathers.