Some stories are hard to hear but must be told.
I would like to start off with a trigger warning: There are themes of child sexual abuse and violent crime against children.
When I was in high school, I had a fantastic literature teacher. He told us: “Sometimes we must read something that makes us uncomfortable.”
I have followed this advice and often read
or listen to an audio book because I have the attention span of a goldfish on MDMA on topics that are uncomfortable or upsetting, and many of them are now my favourite books. I treasure when an author approaches a distressing topic with sensitivity, insight and grace.
As I trained as a journalist, I fell in love with the process of interviewing: Asking the right thing at the right moment to find out the truth. I watch sit down interviews featuring criminals, politicians and celebrities and marvel when a good interviewer carefully unearths what in journalist terms is called the line underneath the filibustering, wordiness and omissions. Even though the process is different, I also enjoy watching police interviews for the same reason. We all just look out for the truth.
Coming from these two angles, I came across In the Name of the Children. During his time as an FBI Special Agent, Jeff Rinek had a reputation as someone who was able to get confessions and in his work he would encounter the one universally despised group of people, those who abuse and murder children. The reason why he was able to do that was that he did what anyone else would refuse to do: treat them as human beings instead of monsters.
Empathy doesn’t get the attention it deserves because the world encourages us to be apathetic and treat kindness or empathy like a finite resource, which must be used sparingly. It most definitely does not extend to criminals. Sex crimes are especially repellent. Hell, not even criminals want to admit to being sex offenders! When the said crimes involve children, it becomes, if possible, even worse.
In actuality showing empathy, let alone towards someone whose actions you as a human being despise to your very core, takes courage. When I say empathy, this doesn’t mean condoning their actions in any shape or form but recognising, at least on the intellectual level, that this person is still a human being.
I don’t have children so I can’t relate to stomach-turning feeling I imagine overwhelms any parent when they even imagine anything happening to their child but as someone who has been victimised I can name an occasion where I have experienced this myself.
I watch a lot of TED talks. In one famous TED talk, and numerous public appearances, Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger, a man who raped her, raise awareness on consent by going over their experiences together. I can’t comment on how poignant of an idea this is. I haven’t been able to watch the video, even though it has been described to me as insightful, because I feel such deep, nauseating disgust towards Tom Stranger.
It’s incredible to have such a strong reaction towards someone just because you know what they have done. I don’t know Tom Stranger but I can’t even look at his face when the video comes up in my suggestions. I hate it that Thordis Elva is described as a rape victim when Tom Stranger is ‘an attacker’ or ‘a perpetrator of rape.’
He is a rapist!
Can we just say that out loud? He is a RAPIST and I absolutely detest this person for having the absolute audacity to go on a stage and have people listen to him. Everything that has ever been rational about me is out the window. I can’t hear anything else, to me that’s all I need to know. I am so angry at this stranger who has never hurt me personally. Just the awareness of what he has done is enough. I don’t care that he has owned up to it and what insight he has achieved through this experience. I don’t care what good he has ever done in his life. I am so disgusted with what this person has done that I indeed start to fail to see him as a person.
This is why I have so much admiration towards Jeff Rinek. Throughout his career he handed away pieces of his soul to find justice for the most vulnerable in our society. He did that for families to have answers and to prevent other children from being hurt by this person ever again. As someone who is so upset by just the knowledge what a complete stranger has admitted to doing to not even stand to look at them, I can’t even begin to imagine walking into an interview room and sitting face to face with someone who might have done the unthinkable and it is up to you to find out if they did.
But he did that, again and again.
Not only that, it would’ve been so easy for him to become bitter but he didn’t. I got this feeling from the book but I have actually spoken to Mr Rinek when I contacted him to tell how much his book impacted me. I can confirm that despite decades of having to face nightmares come to life again and again under incredible amount of pressure, he has come out of it a kind, gracious and gentle man. Despite handing over pieces of his soul, he hasn’t lost his soul. He has shared his story not only as a tribute to his family but also to all the children he has done his best to help, and more people should hear it.
I, for one, am in awe of him.