Image of a Special Victim


The walls of this small room are grey; not a sullen or depressing grey, but a calm grey, the likes of which might be found in Dante’s limbo with its Elysian Fields and overcast skies. The grey is neutral, but my face scrunches as I realize that I have just spent the last two minutes staring at the same wall, dissecting the nuances in its shades of grey.

The room itself is dark, though guessing from the size of the nearby window, I suppose it gets a lot of light. It most likely holds warm sunlight that brings some sense of peace to all the others brought to the same room to discuss what had happened. For now though, the room is dark and the single light that hangs from its ceiling is inadequate. It just reminds me of the dark that is waiting for me once I leave here, though I do not plan to leave while it is still dark. I will not be traveling outside of the warmth of sunlight for Lord knows how long; not while he is still out there.

The cop called “Olivia” is just behind the door speaking in harsh whispers into her cell phone. I suppose she is more than just a cop. A detective. She had introduced herself as such when I first saw her. There is something in her eyes that I do not like. The instant compunction. The instant empathy. I had not even opened my mouth when it flashed across her eyes.

She hisses into her phone just outside the room. “…oh this is such bull…no one in the SVU has to go through that…”

I make a note to quiz her about this “SVU” as I step toward the window. I have an inkling about what it is, but I would much rather hear the words come out of her mouth than keep my guesses to myself.

My translucent reflection stares back at me as I try to shift my focus on the twinkling buildings outside the room. Her eyes appear as bloodshot and red as mine feel. Her blonde hair is still disheveled from its ponytail while strands of it stand amidst the static electricity that bounces around the room and mine does the same. I sigh and she does as well, but I concentrate my gaze past her. Regardless of similarity, she is not me. She cannot be me. I would never allow something like that to happen to me.

I stare out the window and watch the lights of the city shine with innocent repose. My mother’s face begins to form within all the lights and she stares back at me with those enormous near-black eyes of hers as she holds her tattered bible in her shaking hands. She is on her knees pleading with me in the shack of house in which I raised. She pleads for me to stay at home.

“Don’t go, Sarah,” her voice whispers from beyond the window glass. “New York is the great city Babylon.‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ Don’t go. The Beast resides there now. Please don’t go.”

A part of me now wants to return to that house, into my mother’s open and steady arms, but I know I will not. My dissolute mannerisms, as my mother called them, gave me strong pride; too much pride for Little Bend, Illinois. Pride was what drove me out here and pride will keep me from ever returning home. 

I chuckle to myself for a moment. Pride really does go before the fall.

The door swings open behind me and Olivia steps through looking harried, but trying to regain her composure.

“I’m so sorry about that,” she says as she approaches the single table in the room. “We have just a few more things to go over…”

Now that I take a good look her, she does not seem so unlike me. She is a bit taller and her skin seems to hold an enviable natural tan, but her eyes are nearly as dark as mine own. Perhaps her father had blue eyes against her own mother’s black ones, like mine.

“What’s SVU?” I say before she takes her seat at table.

“I’m sorry,” she responds, eyebrows high.

“S-V-U. I heard you say it while you were on the phone. What is it?”

“Oh…well, it’s a uh…it’s an acronym for Special Victims Unit. That’s the squad I work in. All we handle are cases like yours.”

“So, is that what I am? A special victim?”

“It’s a category. It just-”

I quickly interrupt her. “I never cared for categories. People put Jews and blacks into categories. Intelligent and independent women, too. Categories just make the world a darker place.”

She does not have a reply and I turn my gaze to the window.

“Why do you work in a place like this? With people like me? Us special victims?”

“I have a desire to help,” she says, “and that goes beyond what I could do in any other unit.”

I scoff at the sudden absurdity of the statement. It now sounds so absurd to me, but I know six hours ago it would have sounded perfectly rational. Hours before the silent ride to Olivia’s precinct, before describing everything that had “happened,” before taking half a dozen pills to prevent disease or pregnancy, before “spreading this” and “opening that” so doctors could see if he had left a piece of himself in me, even before walking past an alley like I had any other day of the week.

Six hours ago, I would see Olivia as a woman, a few years older than I, who wants to go above and beyond in helping others. Her words would be perfectly rational, yet on this side of “it,” nothing seems rational. This woman, this Olivia, with her short haircut and business casual ensemble, thinks her abilities to help others far extend the limits imposed upon her by helping any other people in the world. For people other than us special victims.

“I don’t buy that,” I say.

“You don’t buy what?”

“You. You and your relentless quest to help others. No one cares that much.”

“I do.”

“Do you?”

“Yes,” she says so sincerely. “That’s why I’m here.”

“So, were you raped? Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been put in a small room with a cop who cares too much and been called special? Not the good kind of special, either. Not the ‘it’s your birthday today’ special or ‘you’ve just won the Nobel prize’ special or even fucking short-bus special. Has this…has this ever happened to you?”

She is silent for a moment as she stares at me, sizing me up to see what words she can use to pacify my anger. And I am angry, very angry.

I am angry that “it” it plays before my eyes again and again like a nightmare that rewinds and will continue playing until my death. I am angry that “it” happened to me in a nice neighborhood in an alley that I pass countless, countless times. I am angry that I can still feel his breath puffing against my skin in haggard pants with a sickening grin on his face as I lie against cold pavement still wet from slowly melting snow. I am angry that this moment can never be erased from memory and, with no one else in the room, this Detective Olivia will feel the full rush of my fury.

“I know why you feel this anger,” she says.

This time I allow a loud laugh to escape my lips, but she still continues.

“It’s…” She pauses. “It’s natural to feel that way. But, Sarah, you did what you were supposed to do. You survived.”

“Survived what? He was eighteen year old kid who’ll never be found by you or any of the other cops here who work for us special victims. He didn’t even have a gun or a knife or anything on him. I was just too goddamn scared to do anything but let it happen!”

“But, you didn’t let this happen,” she says. “No one lets this happen. But, it did…it did happen, but you made it out alive and you reported it. Thousands of women would not have had the strength…the courage to do what you did tonight in reporting the attack.”

“God, you’re so sympathetic. It’s almost too much.”

“Too much?”

She is caught off guard and it is surprising to me that she has never been snapped these same words. To me at least, this sympathy resonates off of her like the glow of a candle in a dark room. I suppose it is fitting. The room is, after all, dark.

“Yes,” I say. “Too much. Like you’ve been through all this before. Like you know how to respond to whatever I’m going to say before I even say it. Almost like…you have this rolling diatribe that you say to all of us…special victims.”

“I don’t,” she replies, still off her guard.

“Are you sure?” I ask, “because you seem so surprised by the insinuation. I wouldn’t think that would affect you unless you’d been jaded at your job for a long time.”

“Well, this is what I do,” she says. “But, I’m not jaded. Every case…every person is different.”

“You corrected yourself,” I say. “You said case, but changed it to person.”

“Yes…yes, I did.”

There is a rising suspicion in her voice. She is no longer concerned with just treating me like another victim. Some special victim.

“I suppose it doesn’t really make much of a difference does it? Case or person. Either way, I’m just another manila folder. Another paper on the pile. Just another number…a statistic. Never mind,” I add as I see her open her mouth to protest. “It makes no never mind to me how you see me because I can’t even see me anymore. The Sarah Dawkens I saw in the mirror this morning is not the same Sarah I saw reflected in his eyes when he was top of me in that alley or the one who stares back at me from the window’s reflection. My life is not mine anymore. Everything that happens from here on out is after him and any memory I have is what happened before him.”

I stare at her as my breath becomes ragged, hoping to see some semblance of understanding, some sense that she is as angry as I am, something that tells me that I am not just another young woman who got raped in the New York; she only stares in return with sad eyes flowing with empathy. I want to kick her in the face as I allow myself to crumble to the floor and bring my legs to my chest.

She lets my fuming form sit in a ball in the corner for two minutes before slowly rising from the table to sit beside me.

“You had asked me before why I work with special victims. Do you really want to know?” I nod while staring at the floor and she continues. “I…am the product of a rape. My mother was walking home one night, someone attacked her…and here I am. I spent eighteen years in the home of a woman who I knew hated me because I looked like him and she went to her grave without ever getting any sense of closure. So, I guess you could say I help other victims because of the one I couldn’t help.”

She turns toward me to look at me clearly, but I wish she would not. Tears are sliding down my face. I am crying.

The anger has transcended itself into something completely new. Somewhere between shame and sadness, I sit trying to repress the silent shudders of mourning over my own violation.

Olivia moves closer to me and wraps an arm around me as she sighs.

“This happens, Sarah. As much as it angers me and causes me to be rougher with the perps I come into contact with, this does happen. I wish I could tell you that you are going to leave here and forget that any of this ever happened, but I can’t. I can’t tell you that your life is not going to have a before and after point from today, but I know…from working with so many other strong women who survived, I know that this is not going to get the best of you. No matter what happens to him, you are going to be strong because of this and I know if you can make it through this, you can survive anything.”

I nod as I lean closer to her, agreeing with her words for the first time since I met her.

The pride is broken and I am crying. The special victim is crying in the arms of a cop who is silently angrier at the world than I ever could be and the tears will not stop coming.

No time will heal this pain. No amount of support or changes in atmosphere will change what has happened. Time will continue to march forward without a care of the scars my heart carries, but I know she is right, regardless if she says this to every one of us. I will be strong on the other side of this, but for now, I sit crying. Olivia holds me tighter as the tears continue to flow and I nod again as I accept my title as a special victim.