11: The “Dolphin Door”
It took eight very long days before the police were able to interview the kids.
We had a phone call from Detective Collins of the Child Abuse Squad asking us to bring them in. It all felt very covert. We had to enter the station through “the Dolphin Door,” which we would “know it when we saw it”.
We picked Kate up from school and told her that she was going to meet a police officer and tell him her story. She was not at all impressed by this. She was angry with the length of time it took and said, “if they really cared, they would have seen us last week”. She said that she wasn’t going to tell them anything and that she just wanted to see Jen.
She was seething by the time we got to the station. That’s when I realised the value of the Dolphin Door. We were able to turn the whole thing into a bit of an adventure. We told Kate that this was a special door that not everyone knew about and she had to see if she could find it. Sure enough, our little sleuth was on the case.
The Dolphin Door was merely a door on a building attached loosely to the police station. Its entrance was slightly concealed from the public, but it was the sticker of a Dolphin on the door that made it a little different from everything else on the block. Fortunately the game of locating that little treasure was enough to settle Kate by the time we arrived.
I spoke earlier of the JIRT team. We were met by the Detective, a DOCs worker and a representative from the Sexual Assault Service. Brad and I spoke briefly to the Detective before the kids were interviewed. He prepared us for the fact that 9 times out of 10 the police were unable to act on these crimes as the children couldn’t give them enough detail to warrant an arrest. He stressed that it wasn’t because the kids were not believed, but simply because they were unable to articulate, with enough detail, what had happened to them.
Kate was in earshot of this conversation, and though she appeared not to be listening, we knew that she probably was. Brad looked at the detective and said “Yeah well, you haven’t met our Kate yet. She’s one of the smartest kids I know.”
And Kate then went on to prove it– she just needed to be reminded that she could.
Ruby was a little blasé about the whole episode. As I said earlier, she had lost her filter, so things just randomly poured out of her little mouth. She was more than happy to tell the detective anything she could remember at the time…or so we thought. After the trial, we found that she was not as forthcoming in her police statements as we expected. She told me that it was “embarrassing to tell a stranger that stuff”!
It’s important here to note that the NSW legal system doesn’t really acknowledge that the age of the child impacts on the way that they recount events. Ruby tended to just list a whole lot of things that he had done, without providing details like dates and times, something which proved costly during the trial. Though she could recall events of abuse in detail, because she couldn’t place them in a recognisable time frame, it was considered a grounds for “reasonable doubt” and I think that this is abhorrent. She was a 5 year old when she made her first statement.
There is an absolute feeling of powerlessness when you are sitting and waiting for your children to give a police statement. Most people manage to get through their entire lives without having to ever give a statement. Here Brad and I were, sitting and handing over our children, aged 5 and 8, to strangers, so that they could detail the most harrowing accounts of events that they should never have had to endure in the first place.
Unfortunately due to the process of the legal system, this was a feeling that we had to experience many times over the months and years that followed.
When Brad and I were called into the room after the girls had made their first statements. The detective was quite pensive. The DOCs representative told us how lovely and brave our girls were and how they both spoke well and had provided “good” details of the abuse. It was a weird thing to be proud of your kids’ ability to make a good police statement!
All of a sudden, the detective banged the table and said “I’m charging him”.
He said that the kids had provided more than adequate details of what Leon had done to them and that he would have no hesitation in charging him. He then left the room to make a call and I remember being told by one of the other representatives present, “He never does that. The kids must have been good”. Again, does one feel pride at that?
When we finished at the Police Station, we exited through the Dolphin Door and took the kids to lunch. Ruby said to me while we were there, “Mum, Leon is going to be so mad with me. He’s going to come and say ‘Ruby that was our secret’, and he’s going to be mad.” It was then that I knew that we still had a long way to go before our girls would feel safe again.