CUSTOMER SERVICE

Some people have the puzzling ability to say useful things about important topics while simultaneously presenting themselves in such an obnoxious way that people will refuse to listen to them. You want to agree with them but they're just so…off-putting. Either they're full of themselves or they're beholden to every buzzword and fad on the planet or they're the type of person who defines themselves as an oppressed victim to the point that if you agree with them, they will get mad and make their argument more ridiculous until you don't.

Basically just picture the kind of people who spend their lives writing Tumblrs about Thin Privilege and Trans-species identity crises and oh my god I'm so sorry I don't put a trigger warning on this post that it was going to include consonants.

With that caveat, it is most definitely worth your time to read this post entitled, "I accompanied someone to the police station to report a sexual assault, and this is what happened." I made a concerted effort to avoid getting hung up, as I tend to do, on how stupid it is to describe oneself as a Professional Sexologist or to talk in that ridiculous patois of Tumblr Social Justice speak (Thanks for the "tw" Trigger Warning, as if people are too stupid to see the title of the post and figure out that it will talk about sexual assault).

As you can tell there are some elements of that corner of the internet that I find highly irritating – and more importantly, highly counterproductive. But it's impossible to get to the end of that post and think, "Well, yeah. That's pretty much exactly what happens." I have never reported my own sexual assault, thank god, because I've never been sexually assaulted. But take cumulatively all of your experiences with the police, with medical bureaucracy, with the small town mentality, and with the too-obvious-to-belabor reality that in sex crimes it is the victim who goes on trial. Consider all of that, read this narrative, and try to say with a straight face that any part of it is implausible.

What percentage of sexual assaults go unreported can only be estimated, but one certain thing is that it's a lot. And it's really not hard to figure out why. I wonder how much of the sub-mediocre performance of the local police in this tale is a specific antagonism toward people who accuse sexual assault and how much of it is being terrible at their job in general. In reality it is probably some of both. It is a problem I have no idea how to solve. What is clear is that our entire justice system is compromised if this is how cops behave – and I don't doubt that some do. Metaphors about homes built on rotten foundations seem trite, but for an accuser/victim in these cases there are already enough roadblocks. The least the cops can do is follow their own rules and procedures and do their jobs without serving as self-appointed judge and jury. If the victim is lying, as so many people so often seem to be convinced, then it is the job of the legal system – not Officer Fred at Podunk PD – to bring that to light.

Be Sociable, Share!

22 Responses to “CUSTOMER SERVICE”

  1. Jer Says:

    Of course gamer culture is misogynistic, why would women ever want to play games.

    Of course science and engineering industries are boys clubs, why would women ever want to play games.

    We all already know these things so why do we have to keep talking about them.

    Because they're still things, that's why.

  2. Jestbill Says:

    After she got over making the assault about HER, the article was pretty good.
    I'm guessing that talking to her about a sexual assault would be like talking to a lawyer about a home foreclosure. There are (likely) years of experience tied up in the precise word choice in each sentence.

    That said, you're right that the offhand backbiting tone–that every well-meaning thing said by third parties must use exactly the right words in the right order–gets old.

    My experience with customer service is that you almost always have to go several levels up before you meet someone who is not following a script. People who follow scripts are usually required to follow them or else. The script either solves your problem or not: take it or leave it.

  3. ladiesbane Says:

    What Jer said, plus: get used to repetition, because every few months there is a new crop of kiddos who either need to be told something for the first time or are discovering a broader reality for the first time.

    When a very young coworker told me her boyfriend was taking her to hear this band called The Eagles, have you heard of them? my choice was to nod sagely, to give her the old lady speech, or to dish up snark. (Oh, aren't you familiar with their catalogue? Perhaps you should at least familiarize yourself with their greatest hits before you see them live.) Only one choice keeps you from making an ass out of yourself.

    (I still can't stand Upworthy, though. The coy remarks, the emo-bait, the utter lack of content in the headlines and captions. If I ever write a book on the internet, there will be a chapter devoted to people who are attracted to the phrase, "This Will Make You Cry".)

    The good stuff is when you can show kids the old chestnuts, books and movies and poetry, and see them fall in love with something worthwhile but long overlooked.

  4. Jimcat Says:

    Unrelated to the main topic, but when I saw "Some people have the puzzling ability to say useful things about important topics while simultaneously presenting themselves in such an obnoxious way that people will refuse to listen to them," I immediately thought of the late Russell Baker of the New York times. I've never read anyone who did such a good job of expressing opinions I agreed with while thoroughly pissing me off.

  5. zach Says:

    Sad to see how poorly trained these people are. I had a similar occurrence with a woman I was dating a couple of years ago. She was followed by a guy who stuck his hand down her pants. She initially didn't want to report it, but after discussing it a bit, we went to the police station the next night. Even though some time had passed and it was unlikely they'd find anyone based upon her vague recollection of his appearance, my argument was that the local station should know this happened in case there was a pattern.

    She tells the officer at the front desk what happened. She begins to take a police report right there, in the fucking lobby, with other people around, asking her to describe in detail what happened, how long he followed her, where he grabbed her, how far down her pants his hands went, etc. She then grilled her asking "Why didn't you report this yesterday?! You should have come by right away!" and, "What were you doing on that block, it's a bad block!"

    It was ridiculous. Maybe she didn't report it because she didn't want to publicly retell her story? Maybe she didn't want to get grief about walking down the block one block away from where she lived? It seemed to me this officer, and later the detectives, had virtually zero experience or understanding of the psychology of sexual assault victims. All things considered, what happened to my girlfriend was pretty mild. I can't imagine how much harder it would have been for her if things had been worse, especially considering how insensitive the police were all around.

  6. Elle Says:

    I know a number of people who do at least some work around sexual violence and the criminal justice system, and not one of us would report a rape to the police.

    The notion that civic-minded women (and men) should report rape, or break the social contract, makes me laugh hollowly to myself. If this institutional indifference and shaming is the response, what on earth is the point?

    I am frequently tempted to roll my eyes at trigger warnings for being histrionic and kind of lame. When I am thus tempted I remember two things: that they give people a tiny tool that enables them to seize control of their wellbeing in circumstances in which they have minimal control; and that they're a kind of fist-bump of solidarity to the enormous proportion of their readership who, at one time or another, needed or might need that sense of not being quite so alone.

  7. J. Dryden Says:

    People seem to forget that police work, like nursing, is Not Like The Movies. To wit: the vast majority of people don't go into that line of work for noble, excited, idealistic reasons. They go into that line of work because fuck it, gotta do something and Arby's doesn't pay enough.

    Most people are barely competent at their jobs. Most people don't like their jobs. Combine these two factors and you have a bunch of people who want to do as little as possible and who want to do what they have to do with as little variation as possible. Which means that when women come in to report sexual assault, those women are "fucking up my day with their bullshit, because nobody died, for chrissake, nothing was stolen, and what the fuck do you expect me to do about it?"

    Human beings have a terrible (sometimes necessary, but most just convenient) ability to shut themselves off from the pain of others–to prioritize one's routine over another person's agony. When you're a battlefield medic, this is a good thing. When you're an intake staffer at a police station, it is not. I understand burnout–it's a real thing, and no one can be blamed for succumbing to it. But that's why rotation is so essential, and trained supervision over such people equally so.

    I have nothing substantial to say about this woman's experience from her perspective–I cannot imagine it, and I'll never be able to, and "feeling her pain" won't help her in the slightest–she doesn't need my validation. All someone in my (armchair) position can say is "That should not have happened–it is unacceptable, and it must be an incentive to correct the process so that the next woman to come in does not experience a second ordeal." That and "Is there anything I can do to help?"

  8. truth=freedom Says:

    Re: @zach: "poorly trained". Well, that, or utterly lacking in humanity.

  9. grumpygradstudent Says:

    Recently a close friend of mine was accosted while walking to the mailbox in her apartment complex. A guy pinned her up against a fence. She punched him in the face, and she watched what apartment he went into. She called the police and reported it.

    Turns out, the kid was 17. The cop's response was, "so, the only thing we have evidence of here is that you assaulted a minor."
    I could.not.fucking.believe.it. I think J.Dryden's analysis is pretty on-the-money. Processing the paperwork of bringing somebody in is a pain in the ass for cops. I'm not surprised they try to avoid it.

    There's also the often-reported phenomenon of police being pressured from superiors to keep the crime rates down by avoiding arrests and/or changing the "type" of crime they arrest a person for to make it look less serious. Then politicians get to ride high on the low crime rates that prevailed during their reign. Might be some of that going on here, too.

  10. Mo Says:

    J Dryden – Beauty. Every goddam time I have to deal with our local cops I receive yet another reminder that not only do the best and the brightest NOT go into police work, but that the ones who do are likely to have psychological problems around violence and authority as well.

    Dumb, uninformed, resentful, and cruel. Just the kind of people we want to be armed with military surplus.

  11. Sarah Says:

    J Dryden – Beauty. Every goddam time I have to deal with our local cops I receive yet another reminder that not only do the best and the brightest NOT go into police work, but that the ones who do are likely to have psychological problems around violence and authority as well.

    Police departments don't want "the best and the brightest." The official line is that they're afraid that if cops are too smart they'll get bored and go looking for other work, thus wasting all the money spent on their training. My own theory is that if cops are too smart they'll start thinking about the shit that they are being asked to do by the Powers that Be, which could lead to turning on said PTB. Those PTB haven't forgotten all the military grade hardware that they've been putting into the hands of their peons.

  12. Graham Says:

    Unfortunately I have to deal with cops from time to time, due to my work. They disappoint me every time, to put it as nicely as I can.

  13. Brian M Says:

    grumpy: Yes. The more conservative, white, Christian town I live in always crows about the lower crime rate when compared to the more "diverse" community where I work as a municipal employee. Of course, in said town, when a house is shot up with a gun, it is reported as "vandalism". Gotta keep that crime rate low!

  14. NoPublic Says:

    Some people have the puzzling ability to say useful things about important topics while simultaneously presenting themselves in such an obnoxious way that people will refuse to listen to them. You want to agree with them but they're just so…off-putting.

    Yeah, but I still come here anyway.

    Anyone who acts to dismiss or remove agency from survivors of sexual assault is part of the problem. That you don't get that is more than just a symptom. Yes, the lingo is arcane and sometimes silly. Yes, trigger warnings can be a bit OTT. But, as Elle says, they're tools to allow people who have lost something to regain small parts of control and dignity. And sneering at them really doesn't help anyone.

  15. Elle Says:

    I think people who are talking about police institutional behaviours are absolutely on to something.

    I'm sure that police cultures vary somewhat from country to country, but the hierarchical, command-and-control, us-versus-them-ist authoritarianism seems to transcend national boundaries. I was talking to a senior police officer recently who was heading up a regional trilateral partnership of the police, health service, and a support and advocacy agency, that responded to sexual violence. He was struggling with cultural differences that meant that their regular partnership meetings had been going quite badly, because the police found them interminably wordy and flowery, and the support and advocacy agency found them unfathomably brusque. He was a strong leader with (what I would consider to be) a good analysis of gender based violence. He was struggling to make a dent in his organisation's culture.

    The police spend a small fraction of their time taking doors and knocking heads. They spend a large amount of time responding to Joe and Josephine Public on their less-than-shining days. Untrammeled machismo and boredom with paperwork isn't serving any of us very well, and it's serving those who are most vulnerable and least able to advocate for themselves the least well.

  16. mothra Says:

    Well, grumpygradstudent, the cop was right. Perhaps his delivery of the truth was rather poor, but that IS all they had evidence of. Now. Should the cop have written off that the woman wanted to report an assault and not investigated any further? Absolutely not. But should he have let the woman know what she was up against with the evidence as it stood? I would argue yes.

    I have no idea what a trigger warning is. Is it like what the news stations all do now before they air a story that might involve blood or talking about something "icky?" I always find those ridiculous. I grew up in the 60's, seeing dead bodies on TV every night on the evening news. No one bothered warning us that we might see something disturbing. Shit. It was war. War IS disturbing. If someone has to explain that to you, well, you need an injection of reality in your world.

  17. mothra Says:

    Alright, had to post again. I went back and read the whole thing and I see what Ed meant by the annoying AS FUCK way this person told this story. I don't quite get the outrage, except the young woman was treated badly at the first police station–mainly, it seems because the cops on staff were complete dicks in general and not because the young woman had been assaulted. Does this suck? Yes. Is it a feature of life? Sadly, yes. In every venue, you encounter employees who just don't give a flying fig.
    Then the narrator goes on to complain about the cops in the hospital asking her friend too many times what happened and how many times she resisted, etc. Guess what? Cops do this to detect holes in stories. If young miss thing was offended by that, she will REALLY hate trial and being cross-examined by a defense attorney. In a perfect world, cops would be able to believe everything that people reporting crimes or assaults tell them. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. Then the narrator gets mad that, after being permitted to stay in the room, the doc comes in and goes through questions and med history in front of her and the advocate. Um, okay.
    Then, the whole story ends with a successful report made and even an IA investigation being launched against the original dicks.

    Gah. Really shouldn't be used as Ex. A in the "Reporting Sexual Assault is a Nightmare" story line.

  18. Elle Says:

    mainly, it seems because the cops on staff were complete dicks in general and not because the young woman had been assaulted. Does this suck? Yes. Is it a feature of life? Sadly, yes.

    Does this have a differential impact on people who have been raped, because of the nature of that crime? Yes.

    Guess what? Cops do this to detect holes in stories.

    Guess what else? The 'holes' that cops perceive in stories echo prevalent myths about rape, including the likelihood of a complaining witness lying about her experience. These are very similar to 'holes' that juries identify in witness testimony.

    The attitudes of police and the criminal justice system to sexual assault are not reflective of some objective truth. They are socially and culturally constructed. The occasional horrifying insights that the public has into these attitudes drive systems change. The writer of the linked piece, however irritating, is continuing a worthy tradition of shining a light on the types of backward bullshit that stand between women and justice.

  19. Daphne Says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that most cops aren't particularly intelligent. In fact, an IQ over 120 is a disqualification. Why? The applicant would be too likely to question authority.

  20. Khaled Says:

    I think that the title Ed posted is appropriate- "Customer Service". Why? Because, to put it in business terms, who are the stakeholders and who are the customers the police are trying to serve? Someone from out of town? The people that are they are paid to, ahem, protect? Har har har. Police provide "customer service" to people that don't interact with the police. To paraphrase The Roots, the well-to-do (usually white) people get the protection, not the police. I work in a rather rough neighborhood, and we call the cops about once a week- sometimes more, sometimes less. It's usually for shoplifting, drunk-in-public, trespassing (the bums that we throw out from in front of the store about 3 times a week), drug activity in the parking lot, etc. The police take their sweet time getting there. We called last week because a woman had just gotten discharged from the psych ward at Miami Valley Hospital, in the care of her grandma, and she was in no condition to be out- she was violent and a little out of control. We saw a police car rounding the corner… one of us went to wave the car down, but he was busy going into McDonalds. The grandma and the woman both went on their merry way, and the cops never did show up. The only time they hurried up and got there was last summer when a crackhead we stopped for stealing said her kids were in the car, or it the officer who used to work security at the store is on duty. Otherwise, it's a half hour, at least. Oh the crackhead didn't have any kids in the car, and they seemed pissed when they showed up.
    The people who actually get stopped or whatever by the police are not the "customers" of the police- the sheriff or police chief rather treats the citizens as burdens to overcome, and are instead being politicians. After all, this is Ohio, where we can't trip over ourselves fast enough to get teachers guns to prevent another Sandy Hook, not actually getting guns off the streets, or anything else like *that*. The "stakeholders" in this sense are the people who run political campaigns or citizens who show up to meetings to talk about how brave the police are.
    Oh, the IA forms these two people filled out? I'm sure they got tore up or tossed as soon as they left. That whole complaint process was theatre designed to make someone from out of town who is raising a stink feel better about themselves. I'd be very surprised if anything actually arises from this report- which is a shame. Think about the case from Steubenville or the case near Kansas City- police actively do not care or worse if their real "customers" are the not the ones complaining.
    Personally, I know the blogger is all appalled by this solution, but if anything happened like this to anyone I know, I think 'hood rules apply- go kick the shit out of the offending party, and everyone goes on their merry way. Sure beats being humiliated during a trial or for a ADA to decide that "their isn't enough evidence".

  21. Linda Says:

    As a cop told me once, there is a polite and professional way to do everything. These guys forgot/never knew that. I get why cops are suspicious of lying . I'm not one but I see people lie to cops about the dumbest and most pointless things. Not get mixed up, but in fact tell insane bald faced whoppers. But every customer is a new case, and deserve to be treated with respect. As one commentator stated, burnout needs to be recognized and addressed when it comes up.