First Person Singular

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I work strictly with child victims of sex assaults. I don't wear a gun or a badge. I introduce myself as a detective but go by first name and dress like this, in a jacket and jeans. I try to go to the house, where children are most comfortable, and take over their dining room table. I say, "Can you draw?" They'll say, "Yeah." I draw a face and say, "Okay, you put the hair on." It gets them involved, and we go from there.

I'll ask them to recount the event without the [sordid] details: "Where were you? What time of day was it? What kind of lighting?" They'll cover their face with their hands and think. As they're thinking about it, I'll start building on that: "What kind of hat did he wear? What stands out the most about his face?" Sometimes the teeth, sometimes bushy eyebrows, sometimes the chin.

One time, a girl said the guy looked like he'd been punched four times in the nose. I sketch it out to where things are easily altered; I won't press really hard with a pencil. I re-present it to the child, and they'll critique it. We make the changes together. A lot of times, kids look at it and say, "That's him," and then turn away. They won't look [again].

You're talking about the mind's capability to recall and a fallible person's ability to draw. [But] there's some fulfillment there. One of my earliest cases, a young child gave a description. It was put on the news -- my first composite on the news. We were able to identify who this guy is. We went to arrest him, and he'd shaved his head. It made me feel good, encouraged, that the composite was close enough that he felt he had to shave his head in the middle of winter. I obtained DNA [from the suspect], but I never said, "Hey, I'm the one who drew you, you jerk."

I enjoy this part of [the job] because I see it working. It gives me the opportunity to get down on one knee with a kid and help establish a healthy outcome from an unhealthy situation. The first girl, she had nightmares [afterward]. I did a portrait of [her] and her puppy and presented it to the family. I want them to see that things can get better.

Interview by Ellen Ryan

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