Before my sister arrived, I had been feeling that this night would be long. Tara* had recently moved back into our parents’ home after a break-up with her boyfriend of 3 years and I assumed living with our parents again was a hard adjustment. When she arrived that evening, she could scarcely wait for the door to shut behind her before her calm demeanor crumbled and she began sobbing. I had anticipated an ulterior motive for her visit, but I never imagined it would be what she explained to me. Through her tear-choked voice she explained to me that her ex-boyfriend had sexually assaulted her, which catalyzed her moving out. I asked if she had gone to the police; she hadn’t. I understood her apprehension, but we talked for a little longer and Tara decided that she wanted to press charges. I told her we could leave right away, but realized I didn’t know if the police station in our quiet suburban city closed early, like the rest of the city. I found the phone number online and my call was answered by a woman.
“Hi, I was wondering if you close at any time today?”
“What is it you’re looking to do?”
“To file a police report.”
“Uh… a sexual assault.”
Her voice lowered.
“Oh. Well, we usually send an officer to your house to do those sorts of things.”
“I don’t think that would be possible.”
Our mother was having a hard time grasping what Tara had told her happened. We didn’t want to have a police car come and park outside her house on a street where the neighbors are always watching and asking.
“You can come here anytime, but you’ll have to wait until and available officer can see you.”
“Okay, thank you.”
I decided not to tell Tara the woman had whispered her response to me after I said it was for a sexual assault. I was dreading what might happen when we go to the police station. I hoped I could sit with her in the interrogation room, I assumed they would take her into when we explained the nature of report. Part of me also hoped I couldn’t sit with her, selfishly. I didn’t know what I would do when it came down to the moment I either stayed by her side or in the waiting room.
We got into the car and began what felt like the beginning of an odyssey. I didn’t know what to say to Tara. I reached over and held her hand in mine until we reached our destination. We walked into the police station and were greeted at the reception counter by two male officers. I explained that my sister wanted to file a report. They asked what kind. I said sexual assault. Their eyes darted to the left where a middle-aged man sat in the chairs by a pay phone, certainly within earshot. The officers asked me to have a seat while they spoke to my sister. I wished they had asked me to stay with her. I sat next to the man, expecting Tara to be lead through the door to the rest of the station. She wasn’t. They asked her to begin and just listened while she cried through her story for the second time that night. I writhed in my seat, as they had Tara describe her sexual assault in the lobby of the station with a random man sitting front row. Tara was being incredibly brave. I couldn’t handle it and approached the officers.
“Excuse me, could you do this somewhere more private?”
“This is where we usually do this… but we can move over to the side here, though.”
I turned to Tara.
“Are you okay with that?”
She paused before nodding. They moved to the side and I sat down again. I wished a female officer was there to speak with Tara, as well as the obvious need for privacy met. However, this is what they could do for us, and we couldn’t do anything more.
As Tara told them what happened, I watched the officers faces contort mildly when she would explain the things that occurred. They kept focus on her, though, and I appreciated that as the least they could do. After they had the information they needed, one of the officers explained to us what would happen next. We understood, thanked them, and left the station.
The ride home was quiet. I couldn’t fathom the pain she was going through having someone she loved take advantage of her, then repeating the experience verbally until she found help. She told our mom what he did, but she didn’t know what to do. It was later demonstrated the even at the police station, hushed voices were the best comfort they could offer. Though sexual assault and rape have been more openly spoken about in recent times, it seems the ability to handle victims with respect and sensitivity hasn’t yet been developed in civilians and law enforcement officials alike. Tara demonstrated a strength in herself that I struggle to believe would be in me at a time when one feels so vulnerable.
It seems that we, as a whole, need to learn more about helping those who come to us it a time that feels so alienating. This goes twice for law enforcement who are so critical in bringing justice to those who are made victims. The officers we spoke to that night did try their best, and you could see they genuinely wanted to help. The knowledge of how to do that was the factor that was lost. No, Tara was not attacked by a violent stranger, but the pain and mistrust she must have been feeling are certainly worthy of more than a conversation over the counter of a lobby. I think the best time learn more and better ourselves is now.