Stabbed 27 Times

My Experience Working with a Gang Affiliated Domestic Violence Victim

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It’s 4:00 am. I’ve just arrived at my supervisor’s office with damp, towel dried hair, minty fresh breath and a 16 ounce cup of black coffee. Pure shit-like tar I grabbed from a gas station on the way into work after I was woken by a phone call requesting I come speak with her about a case.

My eyes sting from the florescent lighting hanging above us. I haven’t quite transformed from anti morning person to motivated employee. She skips past the chit chat and gets right to it.

I need you to go to Banner Medical Center and speak with her, she says as she glances down at a file.

I study the cover of the file. I don’t work domestic violence cases.

Due to the nature of the crime, administration and PD have decided you are the best qualified to take this one.

I have yet to open the file she set at the end of her desk, but I already know. There are children involved. This is not my area of expertise.

She pulls two folders from the file and pushes them toward me. One is labeled “Victim” followed by her last name, the other “Perpetrator” followed by his last name, both handwritten on neon sticky notes.

I pick up the victim’s and fold the cover open.

He is a known gang member. If she testifies against him her life is in danger. If she doesn’t her life is in danger. You need to persuade her to testify and go to a safe house. Brig will take over the case once she and the kids are relocated. We just need you to get them there.

The tone of my supervisor’s voice is sharp. I can tell by her careful choice of words she is not open for debate. I understand why they chose me. I have an extensive background with gang related behavior but I have my reservations about working directly with a victim. I make one last ditch attempt before leaving her office abruptly.

I’m contracted to stabilize perpetrators, not victims and not domestic violence cases. My assertion falls on deaf ears.

I snatch the folders off the desk and walk out.

The city streets are filled with chaos. Vehicles are minorities out here in the traffic. Buses creep at 10 miles per hour, carelessly weaving in and out of lanes. The train has the right of way at every intersection. Crosswalks are figuratively stretched an extra 100 feet to fit the swarms of college students navigating Arizona State University campus.

Over the bustle I feel my heart beat rapid and forceful. My thoughts spiral from curiosity to confusion. I’m not sure what to expect.

The photos of the victim at the time of the crime disgusted me but it had been 22 days since they were taken. Her statement in the police report claims she had fallen yet the medical report states she had been stabbed 27 times.

Traveling six blocks in a car takes roughly 20 minutes. The heat from the Arizona sun is incessantly oven roasting. The cabin of my car doesn’t cool off until I pull into the hospital parking lot.

I sit in the car with the air conditioning on its highest fan setting, blowing the dry dust and grit particles at my face. I light a cigarette and smoke it while I focus on shaking off my rugged attitude before going inside to engage the victim.

The victim’s hand shakes as she picks up a glass of water and takes a sip. Lifting her head to drink exposes markings that resemble serrated edges of a knife across her neckline. It’s somewhere in between scab and scar with the faintest bit of fresh still lagging.

The bruises on her face are healing and now a faded shade of yellowish-green. Darkness from exhaustion sit beneath her swollen eyes. Her lower lip quivers.

It looks like you are set to be released from here within the next couple of days, I say to her, avoiding eye contact. Do you have a plan for where you will go?

Her eyes gaze down at the table. I feel helpless sitting across from her. I can help her now that it’s over, if she let’s me but there’s nothing I can do to help what’s been done to her before now.

She breaks down sobbing.

The room is suffocating from the dense swell of tension in the air. I need to go back. If I don’t he will find me. He will find us. I know he didn’t mean to do it. I realize now what I did wrong. I can change. I can make him forgive me. I can.

She pleads. The knot in my stomach tightens.

Her fear is palpable, her pain heavy. I reach my hand across the table to touch hers. She pulls away. I inhale deeply, attempting to compartmentalize my emotions. It’s imperative I have no emotion. I was sent here to do a job. I need to get that job done.

He’s in jail, I inform her. I’m here to talk to you about pressing charges.

She stands up from her chair and walks over to the wall, facing it as if she were a scolded child who is hiding from me, her body swaying slightly. I can’t press charges. If I do the Department of Child Safety will take my children. I won’t lose them. No! Her voice is escalating.

I shuffle through the pages of her case file scanning for facts. Ma’am, the state is filling charges against him whether you press charges or not. He stabbed you 27 times. He is going to prison. You can’t stop it from happening but you can increase the length of his sentence.

The Judge will find him guilty. There are witness accounts and forensic evidence.

You can prevent him from doing this to you or someone else again, but only if you press charges along with the state. It’s the difference of 36 months and 25 years.

Our eyes meet for the first time. A tear rolls down the shape of her cheek, pausing at a slice mark above her jawbone before making it’s final descent onto the hospital gown that conceals the remaining stab wounds.

I can’t do that to him. Her tone is muffled as she wipes the moisture from her face. He loves me. His children need him. This is just a misunderstanding.

She begins to rattle off rationale, justifying his actions. She is prepared like an old pro skilled at making excuses for him and spinning stories.

I cut her off mid sentence and redirect our conversation back to matter of fact.

The man you refer to as your husband, I refer to as your abuser. Your abuser is a known gang member. He murders people. He’s involved in a lot of illegal shit.

She puts on an annoyed face and looks away.

He is being held without bail but that does not guarantee your safety. Anyone he is affiliated with could potentially come after you. I will arrange for you and your children to be placed in police protection upon discharge.

She crosses her arms indicating she’s shutting down or shutting me out. I’m going to lose her.

Three hours ago my boss gave me a job I didn’t want to do. I’ve since changed my mind so please, let me do that job. I assure you going into a safe house will prevent any involvement from the Department of Child Safety but if you do not agree, I cannot protect you.

I can put the paperwork wheels in motion making the decision for her but I want her to choose to do so on her own. Her abuser has already taken her power from her and I will be no better than him if I do the same.

You have until discharge to make a decision, I say as I slide my business card across the table to her. I collect my belongings and stand up. I feel her presence following me as I walk toward the door. I turn around searching her face for an answer.

I will think it over, she says before closing the door behind me.

This is an edited and revised version of a journal entry I wrote about this experience. The morning the victim was to be discharged from the hospital she contacted me. She agreed to testify against him. She and her children were relocated. Her abuser was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Three months later my office was shot up in a drive by while the building was closed overnight. The security camera footage identified three males, all affiliated gang members

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Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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