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    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    "The System Worked"

    Salon's big story today is Jody Jenkins' story of being wrongly suspected of child molestation and pornography. You should read the whole thing: the innocent pictures, the investigation ... it'll turn your stomach what these people went through and will never forget.

    Searching for other bloggers' responses to the article, I came upon a blog called Unwilted and a post called "Salon goes Right Wing":

    Essentially, the author and another father took the kids camping. They took pictures of the kids skinny dipping, then got them developed. The store clerk reported the pictures. Instead of reacting with sincerity and cooperation, the author was defensive and uncooperative. His friend demanded to see the officer in charge of the investigation. He hired a lawyer. By his reaction, he made the process last longer than it normally does.

    The author also obstructed justice. On the drive to the forensic interview with the authorities, he told the kids that the state wants to take them away from home. He admits this in the article.

    All that said, the process worked. It worked more slowly than normal -- thanks to the author. But it still worked. There were no charges filed, and the state never even attempted to take the kids (when the children could be in danger, they take the kids right away -- so the state used appropriate restraint here). And now, the poor author (who has moved to France) complains about depression and tears. This guy has problems.

    This guy does have problems, problems caused by the trauma (it is trauma) of being investigated for something of which you are innocent. Here's how Jenkins describes the emotional aftermath of the investigation:

    Shortly after our case ended, we moved to France and I slipped into a depression. Perhaps it was something akin to the helplessness that victims feel. Or perhaps it resulted from suddenly being released from the constant and intense pressures of moving, combined with the fear and anger we had been feeling for so long. But I felt violated and exposed and vulnerable. In the mornings, we would awake and prepare our children and then hurry them to school. And on many days when I returned home, instead of getting to work writing I would go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet and cry uncontrollably.

    For months, I felt as though I was moving almost unconsciously through daily life, numb to the world and yet overly sensitive to everything. Finally one day, six months later, unable to bear the sense of helplessness and unjustified shame about what happened to us, I sat down at the computer and began to write about it. And I began to feel something shift inside me, a subtle but distinct change from a sense of powerlessness to taking back some sort of control of our lives. I wrote in a fury, and when I sent the story to my wife, she sat in her office and cried. I sent it to our friends who had gone through this with us. Although seven months had passed, they still had not come to terms with what had happened. Rusty's boss had been understanding, but they said their children still talked about it in the most unexpected moments. "My youngest daughter will say, 'Why did they think that, Mommy?'" Janet said. "'Why did they think we were drinking beer and doing things wrong?'"

    I truly think that, unless you've been there, maybe you can't understand. I didn't go through exactly what Jenkins and his friends and family went through: I was not accused of a sex crime, much less a sex crime against children, and nothing, nothing has a stigma like that. I didn't have to tell everyone in my life that I was being investigated, as these folks did. But I do believe I experienced at least a year of PTSD as a result of being wrongly accused and investigated. The invasion of privacy alone (they read emails between my partner and myself, found out details of my mental illness, sex life, family issues, etc) scarred me, the good cop-bad cop manipulations scarred me, the feeling of being so out-of-control, the abusive manner by which they used personal details about me in interrogations ... I seized up with rage around cops for years afterward. I was angrier than I've ever been and it destroyed my life in many ways. I was more criminally-inclined after that experience than at any other point.

    And this is me: a young (18 and 19 years old during the process) white woman in college at the time. Other than my mental illness and political beliefs (and possibly sex life - don't know because they didn't address that directly), I had all the advantages. And again, I wasn't accused of a sex crime against a child, which, in our culture, means you are guilty until proven innocent.

    I am really enraged when people can say that that experience means "the system worked". If that's what it feels like for the system to work, the system needs to be drastically reconsidered. If you've never been through it, it's not for you to say whether the system works. I'll bet you'd be hard-pressed to find a hand's fingers' worth of young urban black men who think "the system works". There's a reason why.

    When so-called liberals or progressives defend the faults of the criminal justice system and underplay the real emotional destruction it causes to both the guilty and the innocent, I feel the deepest futility. (And that includes some of the wack commenters on Pandagon.)


    Blogger The Goldfish said...

    Nobody handles false allegations well. I mean, on one level we can all feel that if we have done nothing wrong, we have nothing to hide. But everyone of us has drawers in our homes and in our minds which we don't wish strangers to overturn.

    That intrusion, that mistrust, the anxiety is always going to be upsetting. And when someone faces this and one of the very worst suspicions because they photographed their children skinny-dipping (or in the bath, or at the beach), while real child abuse goes on never very far away, then that is not the process working.

    4:41 AM  
    Blogger Bella Sultane said...

    It seems to me that the system is flawed in several ways. It doesn't seem to adequately protect against false accusations, nor does it adequately address actual abuse.

    That must have been a very hard time for you. I'm sorry to hear that it happened.

    2:58 PM  

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