To Catch a Rapist
A special-victims unit fights the hidden epidemic of sexual assault that is disturbingly difficult to investigate.By KATHY DOBIEJAN. 5, 2016, NYT
A dull, frigid winter morning. Overhead, the sky was locked in gray, only occasionally releasing an ashen, icy flake or two, more like iron shavings than snow. On the third floor of the New Haven police station, Detective Kris Cuddy had just finished interviewing the mother of a young rape victim. After escorting the woman downstairs, she was returning to her office in the Special Victims Unit. Her square-heeled boots made a quick, hard sound as she left the elevators, a tock-tock-tock that could be heard above the ringing phones and cubicle chatter. The detective had an Irish face — blue-eyed, pale-skinned, puckish, her coppery brown hair shorn close at the sides into a fauxhawk. She was one of only four investigators in the S.V.U., and she had 32 cases open at the moment. But during interviews with victims or their family members, she never displayed any sign of the pressure she was under. Her manner was steady and reassuring. So we’re here to discuss an incident that happened recently, she would begin, making only a vague allusion to the matter at hand before stepping back to allow people to tell the story in their own way. She would offer water, offer a tissue. Let them talk, circling back later to gather more details. At the end of interviews with victims, she almost always told them they were brave.
That morning, in a voice edged with distress, the mother had described a girl who seemed broken by the assault. The mother, too, was overwhelmed. When she broke down sobbing, covering her face, Cuddy placed her hand on the woman’s forearm, saying quietly, ‘‘We’re almost done. We’re almost done,’’ as if she were coaxing her to swim a little longer (they were almost at the shore!), coaxing her even though in all likelihood that shore no longer existed for her.
Cuddy shared an office with her partner, Detective Joe Landisio, their two desks facing each other and pushed together, edge to edge. The room was crowded with two printers, a table, another small desk and a huge file cabinet filled with old homicide cases that no one had bothered to move when the units switched offices. The bathroom was next door, so you could hear toilets flushing all day. When she walked into the office, she felt like going straight to sleep. The mother had been so distraught, and Cuddy couldn’t make a dent in that. ‘‘You know what this office needs?’’ she asked as she sat down at her desk, letting out a huge sigh. ‘‘A bar.’’