Voice Platform and Support Network for Families of Missing and Victims of Crime
Sensitivity 101 Published in the CT Victims Voice news letter
On a sunny day sunglasses are needed to protect our eyes, however the glasses need to be removed to see clearly in dark places. Almost 8 years ago, I was wearing a t-shirt which read, "Life is good" and my glasses were in place. I felt bad when I heard stories of tragedies befalling families. Somehow I thought my family had a cushion of protection. I was blinded to the reality of crime - guilty as charged. Today I know - no one is exempt from crime infiltrating their lives. In order to correct the problems in society we need to remove our rose colored glasses and open our eyes; we need to look, listen and take action.
My family as I knew it- Dad, Mom, Billy and Paula- came to a sudden halt almost 8 years ago when my son, Billy, was violently torn away through what I believe now to be an act of violence. The horror of hearing that my son had gone missing led us to the police department, believing that we would find assistance there. We did not know nor expect that the police would lack the necessary training to assist us, telling us to return, and suggesting our son was on a vacation, drinking beer. We left the police department, fumbling about like fish out of water.
Today, I struggle with a new identity - the mother of a son gone missing. Since that first horrific day, on August 24, 2004, I have daily inter-actions with law enforcement. I can share with you that I have been on the receiving end of hurtful comments by law enforcement officers and often wonder, why this repeatedly occurs. I honestly believe that many of these offensive comments are for the most part unintentional and a direct result of today’s law enforcement officer’s lack of training regarding how to interact with a crime victim and their family mem-bers. And yet, the smallest gesture could take steps to healing a broken heart.
No one is perfect, I understand that, and when a child, whether adult or a minor, goes missing, law enforcement becomes a lifeline for fami-lies. The interactions with law enforcement have the potential to harm or comfort. The purpose of a law enforcement officer, from my vantage point, is to protect and serve the community to which they are affiliated. During my journey to bring Billy home, I and my family have had to endure comments and judgments that have left us broken, including:
"No Body- No Case"; "He is probably in Europe drinking beer and he will be home when he is ready"; "It is five o’clock and I don’t get paid after five"; "You care about your son, but no one else does."
I hesitated to write this, but if I can help one other parent or family member not suffer, it’s worth it to me. As the years ticked by, I have learned a lot about human nature. What emerged, enlightened me and woke me to reality has been, if my voice can change the interactions with one law enforcement officer and a victim or their family, that it is worthy my speaking.
I am not alone in these experiences. Two close friends were vacationing when they received a phone call from a detective who said, "Come home your daughter has been murdered". Reeling from the news, their long trip home was a nightmare compacted by the insensitive words of the Officer.
I will share several other remarks by law enforcement and authorities that have been shared with me and other crime victims over the past few years.
"It’s a waste of time putting up fliers."
"When you find him he’s going to run away again." (but, there was no history of running away)
"99% of them walk back in a couple of days."
"Be prepared he went off to commit suicide."
When no body was found the comment "Oh, he just went off to start a new life."
"There are no signs of foul play." (This makes it sound like an excuse to not investigate and it’s hurtful to families who are very fearful that something has happened).
"He is probably in Mexico having margaritas with his friends."
"He could have been abducted by aliens, I guess"
"He’s an adult. It’s not a crime for him/ he has the right to walk away from his life."
My life has changed. I now advocate every day for crime victims, missing persons and their families. My heart is crushed when I learn of another family joining the ranks of crime victims, desperately looking for help and guidance, pleading to find their loved one. Everyday gone is a day wasted. That is why I have advocated for a statewide/nationwide database to assist in the location of missing persons. Since my son went missing, we have successfully changed the law, and a family no longer must wait 24 hours to report a missing person - although I still hear families who have not been informed of this new law. THERE IS NO TIME TO GRIEVE! How do I impress upon society! Day in and day out we have become detectives ourselves.
Author: Janice Smolinski
The OVA is not suggesting that every law enforcement agency or representative is insensitive to the needs of crime victims, however this is the factual occurrence of this familie’s experience.