We’re posting weekly transcripts of Season 2 of Slate’s Working podcast for Slate Plus members. What follows is the transcript for Episode 8, which features Detective Erica Hurley of the Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau’s Child Abuse Team. To learn more about Working, click here.
We’re a little delayed in posting this episode’s transcript—apologies. This is a lightly edited transcript and may differ slightly from the edited podcast.
Adam Davidson: Hi, so, what’s your name and what do you do for a living?
Erica Hurley: I’m Erica Hurley and I’m a detective with the Portland Police Bureau Child Abuse Team.
Davidson: All right, I’m just going to say, you‘re not showing any obvious signs of being a detective.
Hurley: Well, I have a badge and a gun on, it‘s just underneath the jacket so you can’t see it! But no, we do plain clothes here because most of our stuff is done with interviews, and going out to schools and talking to kids, and doing those things. We find most of that is done better in plain clothes so that we don’t have an obvious police presence when we do stuff.
Davidson: Got you. So, I want to get to—I know there‘s a lot to your job—but with this podcast, we try to start with just what a typical day is like. Can you just talk about what a day is like?
Hurley: One of the things I like about this job is, there is no typical day. Some days I come in and literally write reports all day because that‘s what I’ve done the days before, but then there‘s other days that you walk in at 6 a.m. when I start my job and by 6:15 I’m headed to the hospital because we have a child that‘s been broken by somebody, and we need to deal with it. Other days I’ve been here since 11 the night before because someone called to say there was a child in the hospital, and we went to deal with that, and I spent the night working.
So, there really is no basic day for me. Every day that I walk in is different, which keeps me on my toes and I actually kind of enjoy. But there’s not “typical” in this job.
Davidson: Can you tell me about today?
Hurley: So, well, today is a totally nontypical day because the president of the United States is in town, and so we have been detailed to do a protection detail for him which has nothing to do with child abuse. But I am a police officer first and foremost and a detective second. I’ve been a police officer for over 20 years, so I’ve done this job for a long time. And so, they still have us put on a vest and a badge and go out and do real police work on occasion as well.
Davidson: And this will not air until the president has long since left, so what—we’ll get to—I’m much more interested in your regular job, but what does being a presidential detail mean?
Hurley: It‘s just security, right? So, it‘s all about closing down streets and securing the buildings that he will be going to, so that no one gets in that isn’t supposed to be there. And just making sure, obviously there‘s always protests or there‘s other people that want to make their word known. While we’re out there we make sure that they have the ability to do that, but not too close to the president.
Davidson: So, have you been—or, I guess your superiors have been coordinating with the Secret Service and –
Hurley: Of course, yes, for quite some time, yeah.
Davidson: Is this exciting or is it a bummer, this kind of day?
Hurley: I actually don’t like this kind of day. I have a huge number of cases that need to be worked, and this just two days away because he’s spending the night, so it‘s today and tomorrow. I will spend two days not working the cases that need to be done, and like or dislike the president it doesn’t matter. I have children that are my victims and they are more important, and so unfortunately this takes away from that.
Davidson: So, instead of going through a typical day, could we go through a typical case? I’m imagining each case is different, but can you—and obviously we don’t want any actual names—but just either think of a specific case or just walk us through how you learn about a case and what the next steps will be.
Hurley: So, cases come to us in different manners, but I’ll take you through a case that I did several years ago. And so, first to lay it, we do several kinds of cases. So, I do child abuse that is physical abuse. I also do sexual abuse cases. Each of those are handled, obviously, in a different way. We’ll start out with the physical abuse case. So, those usually come in to us from the Department of Human Services or Child Welfare, or they will come in from a street 911 call. A police officer will go to the scene and find a child that‘s been injured, or have a welfare check on a child and find a child injured.
But most commonly they come in from the hospitals. So, a child may go in for a well check-up child [sic] check, and the doctor looks at them and says, “Oh, these are not bruises that should be on this child,” or, “This child has some issues now that we have some concerns about internal injuries,” and then they call us. We work very closely with what‘s called Cares Northwest, which is a group of doctors and psychologists and child interviewers that do the “doctor” part of the whole thing.
Davidson: And just so I understand, the—when you say a “child abuse doctor,” there are specific doctors who focus on or are trained in this area?
Hurley: Correct, they are trained very specifically for child abuse. So, they do both sexual and physical abuse, and they can look at a bruise and say, this is more likely than not a child abuse case versus the child fell and this is a bruise.
The case I’ll talk about is 2-month-old babies. They shouldn‘t have bruises. Two-month-old babies don’t get bruises, and if they do there should be a very easy explanation for it. You know what, I didn’t realize that the child’s hand was there when I closed the door, or something that has an easy explanation of “accidental” that would have caused a bruise.
So, in this particular case I’ll talk about we have twin 2-month-old babies. Mom brought the first 2-month-old into the hospital because she was having some breathing issues, and there was obviously a whole lot of other issues wrong, but when Mom initially brought the child in she said, breathing issues. In this particular case we got very lucky because the doctor that was not a child abuse doctor that first saw the child, but that was very just hands-on, he took a look at the kid but took a look at the kid’s records and realized the child had a twin sister.
So, he immediately said to Mom, “Hey, where’s that twin at?” And Mom said, “Well, home with Dad.” “Why don’t you have him bring that one in too, just so we can do a baby check and make sure everybody’s OK.” When the first 2-month-old came in she was having some breathing issues, but she also had some huge sores around her mouth. She had some obvious feeding issues.
Anyway, there‘s a little thing that keeps your upper lip hooked to your gums and then there‘s something that keeps your tongue hooked down to the bottom of your mouth. Those in child abuse cases are many times torn off, because of the way people do with their children—both of those were torn on these girls
Davidson: You mean, by hitting them? Or by—
Hurley: No, actually these—in this particular case, force-feeding children. So, when they try to put things in their mouth or they try to make them be quiet or they do things with their mouth in order to try to stop them from doing whatever they want, they’ll tear those because they’re pretty delicate. They’re babies. So, in this particular case those were both torn on these baby girls, and so again, another indication of child abuse. One of the things that we do with a physical abuse case is, we immediately take that child and do a “skeletal,” is what they’re called, which is just an X-ray of the entire baby.
So, can we find any broken bones? We do a CT scan on their head to make sure that we don’t have any brain injuries. Those are things that are automatically done a child that comes in with suspicious injuries. So, skeletals were done on both of the little children. There were 19 broken bones between the two 2-month-old infants. So, from there we get called, obviously, because now there’s no question this is child abuse. There’s no question that we have a criminal case here.
So, my partner and I go to the hospital. We meet with Mom and Dad. We get a story from Mom and Dad. What happened? You know, tell us about a typical day in the child’s life. Tell us how you care for these children, and so forth. From there, we end up with suspects, usually. Somebody’s story doesn’t add up, right?
Davidson: Can you just give me a sense of your mindset going into that interview setting? I guess what I’m thinking is, you‘re dealing with a mother who either is doing a horrible, horrible thing, or she is a victim of a horrible, horrible thing. And I don‘t know, how emotionally, psychologically—like, how do you walk into that room?
Hurley: Well, I think I’ve done it for long enough that you go into it looking for the truth of it, right? I try never to go into a case making an assumption. Sometimes we have a tendency to say, Oh, it‘s always the boyfriend or it‘s always the dad, right? Not true, just not true at all. And so if you go in there with this thought process of, I think it‘s this person of the people that had access to this child, you may get surprised and you may ruin your case, because now you‘ve given information you shouldn‘t have or you didn’t ask the right questions, right?
I really walk in trying to just not have any assumptions about what happened. Do we know it‘s child abuse? Absolutely. You cannot do to the children what had happened by an accident. A fall is not going to create these injuries, and not on both children.
Davidson: Maybe she’s a victim, too. I would have guessed that comes up.
Hurley: Yeah, absolutely. So, we go in and get a basic story. Tell us about the child, and what happened, and why you’re here today, and those things. And usually the lies come out fairly quickly. A lot of times they try to minimize what actually happened. So, they’ll admit to the fact that something happened to the child but they don’t tell you the whole story. They’ll try to explain it away as an accident, or they’ll try to minimize it. “Yes, I shook the child, but I didn’t shake him very hard.” OK, but let’s talk about that.
Davidson: Can you walk me through what you literally say?
Hurley: Yeah, so, we’ll walk through the door, and the first thing we talk about when we walk through the door—which this is true—by law any child that comes in with suspicious injuries has to be investigated by the police, by Oregon state law. There‘s no question there. So, the first thing we do is come and say, we’re not accusing anybody of anything. We are here to investigate to find out what happened to your child. They—it‘s law-mandated that we’re here. It doesn’t have anything to do with how you present it, or who you are, or any of the things that are specific to this case.
We investigate all of them. Some turn out to be accidents and that‘s OK, too, but we’re here just to find the truth about what happened so that we understand. And that‘s what we explain, and then we’re able to go in and talk to them. We try to interview Mom and Dad separately, obviously—
Davidson: And I’m imagining you‘re getting a range of emotional reactions from them?
Hurley: Yes, absolutely. Some are, you know, obviously very upset, tearful, those kinds of things, and some are pretty stoic. It really just depends on the person.
Davidson: And some are pretty mad at you?
Hurley: Yeah, on occasionally [sic], but not very often. Most of the time things like this are caused by parents, right, or we know it’ll be a caregiver in—for instance, we had one a couple of weeks ago that we knew it was the babysitter because Mom and Dad were at work when the child was injured. There‘s no question that Mom and Dad didn’t do it, right? And so then you walk in and you get a history from them, and we know it‘s the day-care provider that we’re looking at.
Most of the time anger isn’t the issue. Most of the time they want to cooperate because they want to convince us they didn’t do what has happened to this child, right? When they get angry first, that obviously doesn’t look good for them, I think is their theory, and they don’t usually start off that way. So, we go through the interview of what happened, getting a history of the child and how they are and if they’ve had medical issues already, those kinds of things. A lot of times what you learn is, this baby cries all the time. This baby won’t quit crying.
And sometimes it‘s because they’re parents that have never had a child before, and so they don’t understand that a two-month-old child cannot be expected to do some of the things they want them to do. Sometimes it‘s an 18-year-old kid, really, that has just had a baby that has no idea how to care for that child, and so when the child cries and they shake that baby it‘s just a frustration because they don’t know what to do, and they didn’t really know that what they would do is cause brain damage when they shake that child. So, there‘s a wide range of people and why they do these things.
Sometimes honestly they’re just vicious people and they just are. There‘s evil in the world and we see it every day, and sometimes people are just mean.
Davidson: And I’d imagine some of these people are not too far out of being child abuse victims themselves?
Hurley: That‘s correct, some are, absolutely. But you know, it‘s—I don‘t think it‘s an issue of necessarily child abuse. For instance, a shaken baby, very rarely the parents were shaken children, right? But did they grow up in a lifestyle that allowed them to deal with frustration? Absolutely not. Were they taught by their parents how to deal with children and frustrations and anger issue? Absolutely not. I mean, most of them just aren’t. You are a parent—I think we talked about that—I have two children as well. And I know how frustrating it is when that baby just will not quit crying and you don’t know what to do, because you want to help—you want the baby to be OK—it‘s not that you‘re angry with the child. It‘s that I want to help. I’m Mom. I’m trying to get you to not cry and I don‘t get it, right?
I understand that frustration piece and sometimes that just goes too far, and so instead of laying that baby down and walking away they shake that child, or they throw that child, or they do something that breaks that child. They didn’t walk in that room saying, what can I do to that kid today? They walked in that room and said, I don‘t know what I’m supposed to do today. And since I’ve never learned how to deal with anger in any way, I don‘t also know how to deal with the anger that I get or the frustration that I get when my child doesn’t do what I want, if that makes sense?
Most physical abuse cases in my opinion—and I say this “most,” because this is not all—most are frustration and lack of parenting ability. They don’t know how to control that frustration and they don’t know how to make that child do what they think that child is supposed to do. It‘s really hard to reason with a baby. It‘s hard to reason with a toddler, right? And so unfortunately they move to physical acts instead of trying to figure out another way to deal with it.
And you know, when you‘ve got a lack of sleep and all the other things, and—I know a lot of ours have drug issues and those kinds of things, and so you add all of that piece in, and unfortunately the children end up being the ones hurt out of the process.
Davidson: So, you do the interview, in this specific case or in other cases. Sometimes you‘re arresting the person right then and there?
Hurley: Yeah, there‘s a few times that we do do that. We don’t do that frequently, especially in physical child abuse cases, because one, the children are in the hospital. They’re safe, right? We’ll kick the parent out or the childcare provider out of the hospital so they can’t have contact with the child. But these aren’t people that we think are going to find another kid to abuse that day. I mean, that‘s just not the way it works, right?
So, sometimes we’ll give them a few days while we go over the information we have, and while we have more tests done on the child to find out if there‘s more injury that we’re unaware of, and we’ll find those things out before we actually arrest and charge.
Davidson: And will you go and get their other children out of the house?
Hurley: Yes, oh yes, absolutely. So, we work incredibly closely with the District Attorney’s office in Multnomah County as well as the DHS, which is the Department of Human Services, and that‘s Child Welfare. The minute we get these cases in, Child Welfare comes out with us to the hospital and then the District Attorney’s office gets a phone call from us to figure out how we want to deal with stuff.
Child Welfare does what we call a “safety plan” immediately. So, even before we know who our suspects are—so, let’s say a child has walked in, dangerous—or, hurt—and we know that they were hurt by either mom or dad, right? But we don’t know who the answer to that is, and they have five more kids at home. DHS will actually go out and create a safety plan for those kids. They’ll put them with a family member. They’ll have a family member come to stay at the house to do the childcare. If absolutely necessary they will put them in foster care. That‘s pretty rare. Usually we can find another way to deal with it.
But we do that the minute the case comes in before we’ve ever found out who has done anything, because we can’t again assume, right? If I assume that it‘s dad that has caused the injury but it‘s really mom and I leave those five kids with mom, I don‘t know that those children won’t be hurt. So, we do the safety plan immediately, and then as the case evolves and we find out more information it can be modified or changed as necessary.
Davidson: Got you. Maybe we can get back to the twins, because I want to understand the next few days and what that process is like.
Hurley: So, in this particular case we went into an interview with mom and dad separately, interviewed both of them. We found out from mom that she was continually asking dad to be more gentle with the children. She felt he was too rough with the kids. She didn’t step in and stop anything, but she knew that some of the things he was doing was probably not the best for the children. He would get very frustrated when they cried. He would get very frustrated when they wouldn‘t sit still for him to dress or when they wouldn‘t take their bottles. He would put his fingers down their throat to open it up to put the bottle down. These are things mom talked about in her interview.
So, at this point in time we really have a better suspect, right? Now not to say that mom isn’t part of that, because she obviously allowed these things to happen without stepping in to do anything. But it gives us an idea of our interview that we will then have with dad. So, we actually had interviewed dad first and gotten a basic story from him, which was fairly benign to be honest with you. He did a lot of, “I don‘t care for these kids. It‘s not my job. It‘s, you know, my—the wife cares for them. I don‘t really deal with them.” And a lot of, “You know, I just don’t understand, I don‘t understand, I don‘t understand.”
And then we went in and talked to mom and found out that actually mom was a full-time student. Mom had some medical issues where she slept most of the time, and dad actually who was not working had primary care of the kids. So, very different stories, right, from the two of them. So, we were able to go back in and have an additional interview with dad later in the day. So, a lot of times we’ll do is, we’ll do a preliminary interview, get our stories, and it may be the next day before we go back and do another one. Because we’ll find out more information from the doctors. We find out more test results.
And when I say “test results,” so, I know these broken bones are in these children. What causes these broken bones, right? So, give me a mechanism that has created that. We know that broken ribs are from squeezing, usually. They squeeze too hard. Okay, the—the head injuries, are they a shaken injury or are they a hitting against something injury? These particular ones were a hitting injury. The children both had broken knees and one broken arm. I think each had a broken arm. I can’t remember all the injuries now—and broken elbows. What causes those things?
Well, bending them the wrong way causes those things. Pressure or leaning causes those things. So, you find out from the doctor some of the mechanisms, and then you go back in to interview with dad. Talk to us about how you dress the babies. Talk about how you feed the babies. Talk about how you do these different things. And so then what we get out of that is the—what really essentially is the confession, but what he talks about is laying the babies on a changing table with their legs hanging over the end and leaning on their knees to hold their legs still, so that he can then dress them and he can’t make—they can’t move, right?
But now you have your knee injuries, right? Because he’s putting enough pressure, that‘s how he breaks their knees. So, it‘s those kinds of things that you need both pieces, you need to know from the doctors what the injuries are and what could have caused them, and then you go back to your suspect and have those conversations about how they care for these children and what kind of things—and could this have occurred?
In our interviews we’re very careful not give them the information we have, right? If I say to you both their knees are broken, how did that happen? You can make a story up for me to go along with that, right? So, I don‘t want you to know what I know. I want you to just tell me what happened and then I’ll put that together with those injuries. So, in the end in this particular case we had a full confession from dad that really explained all of the injuries of the children, and the reality was—the kids were loud and noisy and messy, and they didn’t do what they were told, and they didn’t lay still when he wanted them to lay still, and [he] [sic] at the times he wanted them to eat.
And he was a very organized, very “everything in its right place” kind of OCD guy, and these babies were not fitting into that, and that wasn’t his plan. And I think they were his first children, although he was well into his 30s. He wasn’t a young man. They were—I think he had this idyllic—idyllic idea, right? Very Pollyanna, we’re going to have these babies and this is what they’re going to do, and it‘s going to be the perfect little life, and that didn’t work out. Those children didn’t fit into what he had expected, which is where the abuse occurred. In this particular case both children were taken away from both parents, because the mother as well failed to protect these children, and he was sent to jail. And the children have since been adopted out, and they actually have a really wonderful family now.
Davidson: Wow. Do we know yet if there‘s permanent damage from these injuries?
Hurley: We don’t know that, and we won’t. A lot of times things with head injuries and stuff, you know—and then the doctors are very cautious about adding that too what happened. So, you have a shaken baby who you know [have] [has] brain injury, or the child’s hit their head and they have brain injury. That child may read late. Is it because of the brain injury? Well, you can’t really say absolutely, right? Maybe this child would have had reading issues regardless. So, it‘s hard to say that, although sometimes you can see it. They don’t walk on time or they don’t have—they know the brain injury occurred in a certain area, and then they don’t—they don’t walk right or they don’t talk the way they should.
And they can kind of contribute that back, but a lot of times we don’t know. Yes, the children continue to have issues, but can we guarantee that that‘s what they were from? Not usually.
Davidson: And when you‘re charging the dad and working with the DA, I mean, this is in an awful story, and when I think about my son when he was two months old, the idea of applying any pressure or doing anything—anyway, it‘s very upsetting. But it‘s not as upsetting as if you had said he took great pleasure in hurting his children and he deliberately broke their bones. So, is that a different charge? Is that a different kind of case?
Hurley: It‘s not necessarily a different charge, although obviously torture can be brought in depending on how it is, and so that would be an additional. And obviously when you give this to the judge and we decide on a plea, somebody who gets frustrated and shakes their baby will probably get a different time in jail than somebody who very deliberately goes in and has decided that they are going to hurt the child today.
Davidson: I guess it‘s up to their parents now, their adopted parents—but what those kids will know about their birth family?
Hurley: Yeah, and there‘s no way of knowing. And there‘s different—I actually just came from some training a few weeks ago. You know, we used to believe that babies didn’t remember any of this stuff and so therefore it had no future consequences. You know, the injuries themselves perhaps have consequences but the fact that they had the pain and all of that has no consequences. They’re finding that not to be the case now. They’re finding that a lot of these children who have significant injuries and child abuse even at a very, very young age grow up with some significant problems in the way they deal with people and the way they look at the world around them.
And just the way their brain develops. Many of them, the core—we had a big, long class and so I’m not an expert on this—but just the pieces out of it, they talk about the fight and flight area of the brain is overdeveloped but the front cortex is underdeveloped, because it‘s the other that they really spent their whole life thinking about for months and months at a time, right? Whereas a small infant that has no child abuse, they reach out, they look around, and they have eye contact. They have all these things, because they want to explore their world.
Children that are abused, even infants, have a tendency to keep their hands to themselves. They don’t make eye contact. They do these different things just to try to get you to not recognize or see them because they know that bad things happen. And so, it will be interesting to see as these children grow, obviously they’re in a few good home now, but how much—and they were pretty young, two months—but how much of that will follow through, right?
Davidson: But just to finish with physical abuse, the—I mean, that is a horrific story. What is it like when the children are verbal, when they’re able to talk to you about the physical abuse they’ve suffered?
Hurley: I don‘t interview children myself. We take them to Cares Northwest and they go to actually a child forensic interviewer who is trained specifically to talk to kids. They’ll see a doctor there, so they’ll see the physical piece as well, but then they’ll take him into an interview room and give him crackers and coloring books, and it‘s really something that’s meant to be very non-stressful for the kids to talk about.
The interesting thing to me when I go into those is, one—these children love their parents. These parents do horrific things to them but they still love their parents, which is always interesting to me. Because as adults, if somebody was that mean to us we wouldn‘t like them, right? But kids don’t think that way. And the other interesting part is, many times there‘s no emotion for these kids when they talk about it. It is their life. It‘s their daily life, and so they don’t really think about it as being this horrific event. Did they hit you? “Well, yeah, but they hit me all the time, right?” “Yeah, I had a broken bone and mom didn’t take me into the hospital, and I kept telling her it hurt, but you know, I hurt all the time because I get hit or because these things happen.”
And so, it‘s very interesting to just see the difference in how horrific we think it is, when because it‘s just such their daily life they don’t think about it that way or they put it out with really a lot less emotion than you would expect. You would expect a lot of tears, and crying, and oh my gosh, and it really isn’t. They’ll color their coloring books and just talk about the fact that they get abused without a lot of emotion to it.
Davidson: Wow, that‘s interesting. I mean, that‘s something I’ve learned as an interviewer. I’ve interviewed, you know, drug addicts, prostitutes, war criminals in Iraq, and a lot—to my surprise, a lot of people it‘s just their life and they just talk about it. It‘s shocking to me, it‘s not shocking to them.
Hurley: Yeah, absolutely.
Davidson: So, how many cases do you have in a week, a month, a year?
Hurley: I usually hold approximately 20 to 22 cases at any given time. So, you know, it‘s—we have times of year that are busier than other times. Interestingly enough, holidays seem to be busy. When the kids go back to school in September it‘s very busy because a lot of the bruises and the issues that are—parents don’t talk about in the summertime—teachers see as soon as they hit school in September, and so that‘s usually a busy time for us.
One of the things that I think is wrong in our business is, we have 12 full-time detectives here with the Portland Police Bureau and we do Portland and Gresham. So, we don’t do just Portland but we do Portland and Gresham, 12 full-time detectives, and we only do major crimes. So, if you spank your kid and bruise them I’m not going to come interview. That‘s—I’m not going to get that case assigned. Anything that there isn’t a major injury that a felony is involved in, I don‘t do an investigation on. DHS will take care of that on their own.
That‘s disturbing, right? It‘s disturbing the number of cases we don’t investigate, the number of cases that we just can’t because we are so busy. Now, we carry a higher caseload than homicide or assault or any of the other ones, much higher. So, the fact that we have the caseload that we have and that we give away so much [sic] cases is sometimes distributing. You know, you read all of these cases that come through the DHS and say, okay, we can take this one but we can’t take those ten, and that‘s disturbing.
Because sometimes if we could get on the front of those cases, maybe they don’t end up in our lap later for the more severe injuries. But we just don’t have the manpower or the finances to do that.
Davidson: Wow. Can you give me just a sense—physical abuse cases, what is the range? Are they mostly persistent, ongoing?
Hurley: No, we rarely get involved in those because again, they don’t rise to our level. There‘s no broken bones. If a child is not admitted to the hospital we don’t get involved usually, because again, they’re not—the case doesn’t rise to our level. DHS will get involved. They’ll go out, they’ll talk about parenting classes, they’ll talk about other things, but unless it‘s frequent abuse to a level that the DHS feels these kids need to be taken away to investigate—occasionally we’ll take them only because of the frequency of abuse, but if they don’t have broken bones and aren’t hospitalized for pretty severe stuff, we don’t take those cases at all.
Davidson: So, if I saw someone in downtown Brooklyn just wailing on their kid with a belt but it wasn’t causing an emergent event where they have to go to a hospital, and I called the police, they’d –
Hurley: The police would come. The police would come, and absolutely a police report would be taken. DHS would then get involved. If the bruising was to the extent that it caused significant pain and that child, you know, couldn‘t walk from the bruising and those kinds of things, then we would get involved. If you caused bruises on that kid that aren’t significant and it hasn’t caused them any impairment, no, we won’t get involved.
Now, having said that, all of these cases are looked at individually. For instance, if you have a baby that has bruises I’m getting involved, because there‘s no reason—there‘s no excuse for—and that‘s probably going to escalate, right? You are allowed to discipline your children. You can spank your children. Until it rises to really excessive discipline, if that makes sense. So, those are all really grey areas. We try to look at all of them the best we can and take as many as we can, but we can’t take all those cases.
But we do—don’t let anybody think we don’t look at all of them, because we do. And we do make sure that all of them get a resource—DHS, parenting classes, those kinds of things, family law can get involved—they just don’t necessarily rise to a criminal case that a detective would get assigned on, although again, infants, little kids that shouldn‘t have bruises, we obviously get involved in those.
Davidson: All right, so, I feel like I’ve been avoiding this, but can we talk about sexual abuse cases? Walk me through that. And I assume there‘s family sexual abuse and then there‘s stranger sexual abuse?
Hurley: Right. And so, we take pretty much all sex abuse cases, okay? So, that‘s kind of the difference between physical and sexual abuse cases. I can’t really think of a sexual abuse case that we would not take on. We have two different kinds, as you discussed. We have stranger sexual abuse and we have familial sexual abuse. The kidnapped child that gets sexually abused is really very rare. Not to say it doesn’t happen—I’ve actually had a few cases—but they are fairly rare.
Although that‘s—you know, everybody has the “stranger danger” idea—it doesn’t happen very often statistically. Familial is incredibly common, and the interesting part about the familial is, usually the family all knows. So, it‘s Uncle So-and-so who, you know, let’s just not keep—[let] the kids away from him. You know, we always were kind of told that he had some issues with kids, or that he touched somebody, or that, you know, Cousin So-and-so didn’t like him, but we kind of swept that under the table and really didn’t think about it.
And we don’t let him babysit, right, but he’s at all the family functions and we don’t—we don’t keep our kids away from him, per se. We have a lot of those, a lot of those. We have ones that they all know what dad did to the kids, and the kids know, but the kids still bring their grandkids around and say, we just make sure that he doesn’t—that he’s not alone with the kids, right? Or we’ll tell the children not to be alone with grandpa, or we’ll tell the children to make sure they lock the door when they sleep the night at grandma and grandpa’s house.
So, it‘s very interesting the dynamics behind it, that a lot of it is known within the family but they don’t want it to come out, they don’t want to say what has happened. And so they’ll sweep it under the rug until it gets bad enough, or one of those kids will go to school and say something, and now you have a mandatory reporter involved. Now the police get involved. And a lot of times, again, you‘ll go out to do that first report and the parent will say, well, you know, we always knew grandpa was a little odd or we always knew Uncle Chester had that issue, but we just tried to deal with it within the family. Or, we didn’t think we had enough to do anything about it.
So, that‘s interesting to me, is just the dynamics of how many families deal with it. We have a lot of sexual abuse with the boyfriend or the stepfather or the, you know—and again, I apologize for the men part, but most of them are men, right? I have to say that although there have been some women in the history of time, I have never in my almost six years here had a female sex offender.
I know they exist. In fact, actually we have had a couple though within our unit. I have heard them—the other detectives—talk about a couple, but very, very rare.
Davidson: I mean, you hear about schoolteachers and 15-year-old boys, that kind of thing.
Hurley: Right, and I don‘t even think that we’ve had a case like that here with a female teacher. Interestingly enough, we’ve had a couple of moms who gave oral sex to their teenage boys, [nah], which “isn’t appropriate” and we’ve had a couple of those—but again, familial, not stranger type sex abuse. Again, not that it doesn’t exist—I know it does—obviously we’ve seen those teachers and actually it‘s become more prolific, I think—or at least we’re noticing them more in this generation. But within our unit here we’ve had very few of those that I’m aware of.
But you know, there are a group of people out there who will find the woman who has the children of the age that they like, and then they will become the boyfriend, and then they will move into the house, and then they will begin to prey on those children. And unfortunately a lot of these women don’t make good decisions and they continually don’t make good decisions, and so the victim that you have at 5 will be a victim again at 7 and 8, and will be a victim again at 10 and 12, because she continues to bring boyfriends in that she doesn’t monitor or pay attention to.
Davidson: And it will be different predators who have a different age that they like?
Hurley: Well, and so that‘s another actually misconception. We used to always believe that they came in and that predators wanted a certain age, right? I like the 10 to 12-year-olds, or I like the “this.” And we found that actually not to be true. Although most of them if you talk to them do have a predilection for a desire for one or the other, they will take what‘s at hand, right? So, if the girlfriend they have at the time happens to have a 5-year-old even though they would really prefer the 10 to 12-year-old, they’ll sexually abuse the 5-year-old, and they may sexually abuse as long as they can until she hits the 10 to 12, which is really what he wants.
But we’ve also learned that a lot of them have learned to abuse non-verbal, right? So, I abused the 6-year-old and I got caught, and I got in trouble, and I ended up doing a few years in jail. Well, now when I come back out I’m going to make sure I’m doing the 3 and 4-year-olds because the 3 and 4-year-olds don’t talk well enough. They can’t sit in a courtroom to tell what I did. I can get away with that and it‘s much less likely that I’ll get caught and prosecuted.
So, we find that although they used to stay much more specific, they do that less now.
Davidson: So, walk me through how a sex abuse case works, with the children where it‘s very clear—these are broken bones that we see on a scan, and the only explanation is some kind of crime occurred. I mean, some traumatic sex abuse does leave clear residue, but most don’t.
Hurley: Yeah, most has no physical whatsoever. So, you know, you get that occasional case where the mom catches the boyfriend or the cousin or whoever and brings him immediately into the hospital, and now I have DNA evidence, right? I have spermicide, I have those things. Those are great cases for us in the sense that they’re easy, right? Like, you have that, it shouldn‘t have been there, and now I have a cut-and-dried case. Most of the time that never happens. Most of the time it‘s been ongoing abuse for years. Eventually that child speaks at a camp or they go to a teacher that they respect and that they think they’re safe talking to, and they talk about what happens eventually.
So, we’ll walk through one of those cases. Actually we’ll talk about a case that I had several years ago, and we won’t use names. But a young lady went to camp, and during camp she talked to one of her counselors about the fact that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather. We actually got that phone call, because they are mandatory reporters, while she was still at camp. We got lucky enough that she had no phone or access to her family at camp, and so literally was there when she got off the bus at the high school, and quickly brought her into a room and asked for an interview.
My partner and I interviewed her and got more information about cousins that she was worried also were being abused, that this was pretty prolific by this grandfather within this family. The mother came to pick her up with the uncle and they were very angry with us. They did not want us to speak to this child. They were very angry with us, and we kind of went through the process of the understanding that they needed now to protect this child. They had to bring this child in for an interview. They needed to keep the child away from the grandfather. This was going to be whether they wanted it or not. This was now open.
Davidson: And this was a mother who might have been abused herself from this father?
Hurley: She actually was not. It was her father-in-law, but it was a known deal within the family, right? Like we talked about before. So, I went and began investigating with the other grandkids. We went to the schools and talked to these grandkids outside of mom and dad—which is legal here in Oregon—I know some people have a problem with that, but the reality is sometimes that we have to do it in order to keep the kids safe.
Davidson: And there are states where you couldn‘t do that?
Hurley: There are states that don’t—or schools that—in other states that don’t allow that. They would call the parent immediately before they would allow us in, because it is a voluntary issue, right? If I go in to talk to a 13-yuear-old girl and she says, “I don‘t want to talk to you,” I’m going to walk away. It‘s all voluntary. But we were able to go and talk to a few more kids. Eventually we have six granddaughters, all who have been sexually abused by this grandfather. So, now we start talking to parents as well.
And of course, as soon as the child has disclosed we call their parents to let them know, we get them involved with Cares, we get them involved [to] the counseling, all of that process starts. DHS, all that process starts, and then of course there‘s the safety plan immediately with that grandfather because he had grandkids living with him. So, we removed those grandkids immediately.
As we go through the process, we find out that this grandfather had in fact abused most of his own children, that those children all knew, right? But still brought their children to the house, because it was a very close family and so they had family functions. They still did these things. The granddaughters that were living within the home were basically told, you will stay away from grandpa. You will lock your door at night. You will not go—be alone with him.
And when things happened and the granddaughters came forward and said, grandpa did this, the response was, “I told you not to be alone with him.” So, whose fault is it now, right? These children were raised with the fact that it‘s their fault if they get abused by grandpa because they were told to stay away from grandpa. So, we continue this investigation and find out that this has been going on for years, and years, and years, and we get eight victims by the time we’re done. He is doing I can’t remember how many years in prison—I think some of them he’s doing it together, but total was around 80 years, I think he’s doing.
Davidson: And what is that—when you‘re talking to him, when you‘re talking to one of these abusers—what‘s that like?
Hurley: You know, it‘s actually very interesting. Most of them are willing to talk, which is surprising, right? When I first came into this job I thought, we don’t have DNA evidence, all I have is a kid saying what happened. Why are these guys even going to talk to me? But amazingly enough they usually do. Most of them want to explain to you why they did what they did. They want you to sympathize with them or understand. And you know, there‘s different emotions for me as an investigator as I do these. Some of these guys are predatory, sadistic, horrible people and you’d really like to go across the table and have words, right?
And that‘s obviously not acceptable. Some of them are people that—especially when you get them when they’re younger—you know, they say to you, “I don‘t know how to handle this. It‘s something that I don‘t know how to stop. I don‘t know how to do anything else. I’ve asked people for help.” But how do you ask for help for something like this without everybody ostracizing you and now no longer having conversation, right?
And so, it‘s an interesting dynamic between the two. Some who never want to get caught and they want to do nothing but abuse children, and they can justify in their own minds why they want to do it, and some who are sadistic. They like the pain factor of the children as well as the different things that they do. And then the other side of, these people who they really would like to stop, they just don’t really know how to stop and they don’t know what to do about it. That doesn’t make them any less bad than the other guy, right? They’re both bad. They both need to go prison, because the reality is that most of these people will never being able to control [this]. Most of the tests have proven there is no treatment for this. People that sadistically want to abuse children in a sexual manner, that‘s their fantasy. That doesn’t change.
Most people have a predilection to what they like sexually, whether it be men, women, adult, whatever, right? This is what these guys have decided and have fed on. They look at child porn, they masturbate to child porn, they masturbate to the images of what they want to do to children, and so all that does is continually feed that. So, they found that most of these guys will never stop doing that. The only way to solve it really is to keep that person away from kids forever.
Davidson: And how do you explain this—these family dynamics? That‘s so—it‘s so painful and confusing. How do you think about that?
Hurley: You know, those I think bother me more than anything, because to me your bad guy is your bad guy, right? You expect him to be the bad guy. But when you have a mother who knows this is going on and doesn’t protect her children, to me that‘s harder for me personally than the bad guy. I expect the bad guy to be the bad guy, but how can you allow your children—especially because many times those mothers are victims, right? How did they allow their children with these people, knowing that this may be what‘s going to happen?
They know these boyfriends are looking at their prepubescent daughter not the way they should. They know they found them in bed with them once or twice, and they swore nothing happened but that‘s really odd, and yet they don’t kick that boyfriend out.
And that‘s when they start putting their own desires before the needs of their children, and that bothers me more—interestingly enough—I think than the interview with the bad guy, right? Because they’re your kids. How can you not protect your kids? And the dynamics of it sometimes is, they have grown up with it for so long I think that it‘s just—it just is what it is. And some people I think don’t know, where do you go from there, right? What would the response be?
How would you go to the police? How does this happen? And now, look at one of these kids that we take through this. Most of our cases plea because nobody wants to go one the stand and tell what they did to these little kids, right? And they don’t want me to get up there and tell what they said to me. So, most of them plea out.
But on the flip side, you as a parent, do you want your child to have to stand on the stand and tell what happened to them in front of a jury, and people, and the bad guy, and all that? I mean, that‘s really hard on these kids. And so sometimes the parents think, I’m just going to keep that kid away from the bad guy from now on, or I’m going to monitor that really closely, right? If it‘s a family member.
But I’m not going to put my kid through the process of having to go through that. And there‘s lots of back and forth, what‘s really worse on the child? Is it really worse to go through the court proceedings of having to deal with that but getting justification to say, I was right and he shouldn‘t have done that to me? Or is it better to just try to get—try to just push it aside, right, and live with it? And I don‘t know always know the answer to that, because it can be really hard on both pieces.
Davidson: With some of the victims, do you stay in touch? Do you know their long-term trajectories?
Hurley: Yeah, some of them I do. You know, there‘s those families that you just get so involved with because these cases sometimes take months and months, and a lot of times it‘s just keeping them—when your child has been violated, especially—and this is less with the familiar—familial ones that allow it to happen, as those that find out about it and immediately do something, right? These cases take months and months. I may make an arrest and do my piece of the case, and it‘s done in a month, but it could be a year before that goes to trial or somebody pleads to whatever they plead to.
So, it‘s constant phone calls to these families to say, I know you‘ve got a court date. We’re not going to go. I’m sorry. Let’s talk about how we’re going to handle that. Let’s talk about going through this and what‘s next. And just continually walking them through and letting them know that we haven’t done away with their case, it‘s going to happen, they’re important, we know they’re important. Making sure that they are connected with all the services of counseling for those children. Counseling for the parents. A lot of times parenting classes, if that‘s what‘s necessary.
All of these different things that we make sure that they are involved in. And some of them you get pretty close to, so, you know, you get the graduation announcements and you get some of these different things as these kids grow up. So, some of them I’ve followed actually for quite a while. And most of those ones that I follow are parents that cared a lot to begin with. This is something that happened that they know was wrong, they did what they needed to do to get these kids healthy, and now they’re keeping these kids healthy. They’re keeping them in counseling. They’re keeping all of these things in place so that they’ll grow up and be good parents themselves, but just healthy adults. And those are the ones I usually have a tendency to stay in touch with.
Davidson: And I’d imagine—I mean, for everyone, these are things that will be challenges for the rest of their life, but I would assume there‘s a wide range of outcomes?
Hurley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think a big piece of it is, how does the home deal with it, right? Did they follow through with the counseling and all the things and made sure this child had every opportunity to be healthy, or did they sweep it under the rug, and I don‘t want to talk about it anymore, and we’re not going to talk about it anymore. But I think even the bigger piece is, and then they kept them safe from thereon. We talked about the boyfriend issue, right? So many of these kids you’re going to see again because they have—their lives are so transitory, you know, they have boyfriend #1 and they boyfriend #3 and they have boyfriend—you know, I mean, and they move all the time and they’re not in the same school districts.
And things are always moving for them. It‘s harder I think to keep them safe when the people around them continually bring people into their lives that aren’t safe.
Davidson: And I’m guessing economic issues are a major part of this bad parenting for the parents. I mean, all of society’s ills come into what you‘re dealing with.
Hurley: Oh, absolutely, and that‘s the big piece, is you look at most of these cases—so, here’s my story when I first started in this unit, the very first Cares eval that we went to—which is where we go in and we listen to the child talk about what has happened to the child. And so how that works is, there‘s an interviewer that interviews the kids and we’re behind a one-way glass, so we can watch but we’re not actually in there. But we can watch the interview. And so the very first one that I went to was with a little girl who happened to be the same age as my daughter at the time, and I’m listening to her talk about what has happened to her, and her education level is already not what it should be for the age she is.
Her speech level is not what it should be for the age she is. So, you can see all of the detriments already that are within that household, right? The parents aren’t educated. They’re not making sure she’s going to school. They’re not making sure that she’s having the opportunity to learn. There‘s a lot of plugging in the TV, and that‘s how they do stuff. So, you can see the detriment just in the lifestyle already the child has been brought into, right? And then you see the piece of the parents not knowing how to parent, right? Not knowing how to make sure your kid is safe. Not knowing how to keep them away from the bad guys.
Not knowing how to deal with frustration themselves with the way they [treat] children, all these things. And so I’m listening to this child talk about all this stuff, and when we get done and the child leaves I looked at my partner who had come with me—he was my new partner, because it was the first one I’d been to—and I looked at him and I said, I am the best parent that I’ve ever known. Because my kid doesn’t do any of those, and I don‘t do those things to my kid, and it‘s great!
So, I said, the positive of this job is, you‘re going to walk in and go, look, I do a really good job because I’m not that, right! Which is not a positive really I guess in the totality, but –
Davidson: Right, you don’t want to set so low a bar-
Hurley: Right, yeah, you don’t want to set so low a bar. But you look at—unfortunately with most of our victims, they aren’t kids that come from well-adjusted families to begin with, right? They have all of these other issues and then this gets put on top of that, and that‘s the sad piece really, is if we could just figure out a way to make the family dynamic better then I think a lot of the other abuses would go away, right? They would solve themselves. But you have to start with decent parenting, and you don’t start with that most of the time.
Davidson: Right, and so you‘re solving a very specific set of problems. Obviously if we could create an economy that functioned for everyone, create an emotional, healthy world for—you know, you would be out of a job but maybe happily so –
Hurley: I’m happy—I would be happily out of job, absolutely no concerns with that at all. But how do you—how do you teach people just to be decent, right? To each other, to their children, to the whole piece of that. And that‘s a much bigger issue than I can deal with, and that‘s the unfortunate part though, is I can go in and deal with this sex abuse issue and I’ve gotten the bad guy out of your home, but I can’t guarantee you‘re not going to bring another one it.
I can deal with this physical abuse issue, but I’ve taken that person and put them in prison—but it doesn’t mean that you‘re not going to keep them around the same type of people that will cause that. And a lot of times I can solve your one issue, but you still scream at your child, you still call him an idiot, you still call him names all day, you still do all those things, none of which are illegal, right?
I can’t tell you you can’t parent that way, even though I can look at you and say, why would you do that? It‘s not illegal. And so that‘s the hard part, is sometimes you want to say, how about if I just take that kid all together, right? And we’ll just put him with a nice family who will like him, and then we won’t have any of these issues. And you can’t, you can only solve the one little piece that‘s my piece, right? And that‘s sometimes frustrating.
Davidson: Have there even been abusive parents or sexually abusive predators—or not predators, but sexually abusive folks—who you did have sympathy for? Who you could find yourself even liking?
Hurley: So, the physical abuse parents, I can have sympathy for those. I’ve had those shaken babies where it‘s the new dad who’s 18, 19 years old and this baby just won’t quite crying, and he doesn’t understand and he doesn’t know why, and he shakes that baby one time and goes, holy crap, right? And he sees the reaction of what has happened to the child that he shakes, and he immediately gets that help for that kid because he’s horrified by what he’s done. I feel that. I can feel for that guy because he’s not a bad parent and he didn’t go into that room with the intent to hurt his child.
He just doesn’t know how to handle this baby crying, and he doesn’t—and he wants to be a good parent. And again, we go back to that, we want to make it better. We want to make our children happy, and so when they keep crying and you can’t stop that, sometimes the frustration level takes over the common sense of the right thing level, right? And those parents I feel for because I know that so many times given the opportunity they would never do that again, maybe, right? Or given—had they had the opportunity to have some parenting classes and some help, right? Maybe they have a grandparent that could come in and help. Just somebody that can be there, too.
And so many of them are single parents, or they’re—you know, the wife’s working and that‘s why he has the baby right now, or vice versa. You feel for them because you can see that if maybe the whole—if there had been one thing different that day, maybe that wouldn‘t have happened, right?
Davidson: I mean, obviously there‘s no one in our society for whom we have less sympathy than a sexual abuser of children—I mean, that‘s probably the single most hated and rightfully so—but it just occurs to me that I would guess, many of them were the child victims at an early—and so in a sense the child victim who you‘re caring for, some of them may become.
Hurley: Although statistically that‘s not true.
Davidson: Oh, really?
Hurley: Yeah. So, statistically they have learned that although—so, initially what they would do is, they would talk to the sex offender and the sex offender says, well, yeah, I was abused as a kid, too. So, now you chalk that up to, oh look, 99% of sex offenders were abused as kids. Now put them on a polygraph and you’ll find out that actually like 40% of them were abused as kids.
So, now you just lost that sympathy vote, right? I mean, I certainly lost that sympathy vote right there. And I guess that goes back to, you know, you have the alcoholic, you stay away from the bar, right? If you truly believe you‘re sexually attracted to children, don’t become a babysitter. I mean, right? And these kids—these people, they integrate themselves very specifically into children’s areas in order to do what they want. If they truly wanted to control it or truly were—truly knew what they were doing was wrong and was trying to do the best thing, they would just make sure that those opportunities didn’t come.
That‘s where I lose my sympathy. When you became the Boy Scout leader, you did that for a reason. When you became the—you know, you went on one of these childcare sites and became a childcare provider, you did that for a reason.
Davidson: And people like Jerry Sandusky, the University of Pennsylvania coach who—I mean, it seems he pretty much organized his entire life around cultivating and abusing a very—studying their parents so he could get the ones who wouldn‘t have parents who would follow up. Is—do you see those people, like, basically what do you call them? “Professional” abusers?
Hurley: Predatory abusers, and yes, that‘s what they do. They learn how to groom these kids very specifically. And it‘s very interesting to me, the parenting piece—because they do exactly that. They become the coach or the assistant coach, or a lot of times just the neighbor, right? So, I look at the parents across the street who I know are overworked. I know they are frustrated with their children. I know the kids probably are not getting the attention that they want or deserve, right? And so, what am I going to do? “I can see how tired you are and I can see that financially it‘s really hard for you to pay for childcare. Why don’t you let them come home after school to my house? I’d be happy to take of them, right? I have the video games, I have all the stuff for them to do, we’ll take them, you know, out to go bike-riding. They’ll have a much better—and it’ll be right across the street, right? Why don’t you go ahead and let me take care of those kids for you.”
And so they prey on the parents’ vulnerabilities, right, and they also prey on those children’s vulnerabilities. Because you rarely see that kid that is well-adjusted and outspoken and all of those things become the victim, because that‘s the kid that‘s going to go home and talk. That‘s the kid that’s going to go to school and talk. It‘s the kid that nobody else—or in his mind, nobody loves, right? He doesn’t get the attention. He’s left at home after school by himself, or he’s told, “Go watch TV, I’m busy.” Or the parents are never home. There‘s your perfect victim, because now I’m going to buy you ice cream, and I’m going to get you the latest video game, and I’m going to spend time with you, and I’m going to tell you how much I love you.
And I’m going to hug you and I’m going to give you that physical attention that you also don’t get at home. Now, it‘s going to lead into things that you didn’t—that those children don’t want—but it‘s easier to lead into now because he’s preyed on their needs. He’s preyed on their wants and desires of just having a parent figure, and someone to love them, and someone to give them attention and time. And so they pick out their people—their victims—very well. I mean, they really do a good job at it.
And if you talk to these guys and you talk to the children, you‘ll see the grooming process. You‘ll see that it started with, “I got the new video game. Why don’t you come play?” And then you‘ll see that it started with, “You know, I was at the store the other day and I saw this, and I knew you would love it, and so I went ahead and got that for you.” And you‘ll see that, you know, I saw you‘re really sad. Do you want a hug? Let me just give you a hug.
And so you can watch the grooming that starts from A, that ends up then eventually with sexually abusing these kids. They’re patient and they’re—it‘s horrible to say, but they’re very good at what they do. They are very good at what they do.
Davidson: So, Sandusky, was he kind of—I mean, he became a big national story, but you‘ve seen him –
Hurley: Oh, yeah, I’ve seen lots and lots of him. Yeah, it‘s not by any stretch of the imagination unique. He is unique in that he had the money, right, to do some of the things that he did in order to put together—he had his own—and I’m speaking only of the media that I’ve seen of this case. I know nothing specific of this case. But obviously he opened specific doors for needy children and for children that didn’t have opportunities and those kinds of things, right? So, he had the ability with the name and the money and all of those things to start this organization that then brought in these children. Obviously most of our people don’t have that ability. They do it on a much smaller scale. But yeah, it‘s the same thing.
Davidson: And it‘s people for whom this is the big thing in their life. This is why they chose where they live, why they chose their job…
Hurley: Yes, absolutely. In fact, you watch how many of them became teachers, how many of them go into early childhood education, how many of them go into these different things that are very specific to being able to be around children. They plan it out really well, and so—now I’m going to put in my soapbox, okay? One of the things that I think has fed into the whole sexual abuse issue is, look—and I think it starts younger and younger. To be honest, we have younger kids abusing younger kids.
We didn’t have the Internet when you and I were kids, right? You had to go steal a Playboy, and that was a little harder, right? Or find out where your father or your friend’s father had them, right? I mean, that was a little harder. But now any kid with a phone, which most of them have phones by 10, they can look all this stuff up. The other piece of that is, so can our predators, right? So, our predators can talk to our kids on these phones. Our predators get into these—and people don’t realize—these guys will spend hours and hours a day. I—one case that I was an assistant working on with one of the other detectives, we walked in and he had—he must have had 12 monitors going and a computer and all his stuff, and he’s on all these kids sites talking to these children, so then he can eventually get to meet them or have them send him pictures or do these different things, all online.
Which these parents have no idea, I’m sure, that it‘s going on. They think, well, all the other kids have this same app, right? You look at some of these apps—one of the applications that I found out about when I was in training a couple of weeks ago, it—the app if you look at it on the phone is a cartoon dragon, right? It looks like a game. Yeah, it‘s not a game, it‘s the predator—the pedophiles that are putting that out to have chats with your child, who then you‘ll send pictures. Those kids will send pictures.
But that is all stuff now that to try to monitor as a parent is incredibly difficult. And they will going—they will go into these accounts knowing that those kids are in Portland, which is their area, or in San Francisco, which is their area, or wherever they live, right? They can—they can go into the sites that they can prey on the children that are in their spot. Child porn is easier to get because now it‘s all online, it‘s not something that has to be sent in the mail in a brown box.
The other piece of that is, they have something called “child anime,” which you probably have never heard of. Child anime—you know what anime is, right? What they do is, they’ll send away to these companies and they will tell them what their preference is for age of the child, what they want the child to look like, what they want the child to say to them. So, the child anime will come with an adult figure, and it will come with a 10-year-old girl who will give him a blowjob and tell him how much she likes it, and tell him what she wants him to do to her, and do all this stuff.
And it will come out in their whole little video, but it‘s anime so it‘s not illegal. But now you‘re letting that predator feed himself, right? Because now he’s going to watch that anime and feed his desires and feed his fantasies, and then eventually he’s going to go—or probably already has live victims—to then play that out on—that‘s all stuff that we allow now in the world, that is much more prolific than I think any normal person realizes is out there. And so, trying to protect our kids now I think is much harder.
Davidson: So, you‘re definitely freaking me out.
Davidson: And how—how freaked out should I be? I’m skeptical, you know, of the evening news that’s constantly telling you, oh my God, your kids are going to die from this and this. I don‘t—for the average parent, how freaked out should we be?
Hurley: I think you should be pretty freaked out, but on different levels, right? So, should you be freaked out about the guy who’s going to kidnap your kid and do that? No. Should you be aware of it? Well, absolutely, and don’t send your little kid to the park by themselves. I mean, common sense, right? But the likelihood and statistics of that is pretty small. Should you be worried about the adult male who has no children of his own, who comes over and wants to take your kid to the zoo or take your kid next door to do stuff? Yeah, I’d be really worried or concerned about that.
But again, to me that‘s kind of common sense, right? So, be aware of that. The Internet is what scares me, and it scares me as a parent. So, I have children and I look at their phones all the time to see what is coming and going. There are sites they are not allowed to use, absolutely not, because I’ve seen them here and I know that the pedophiles are on those sites looking for kids. And I know that my children wouldn‘t go looking for them, but it would just end up on their phone or in their computer and that‘s not something they can control.
And the biggest issue with me for all of those things is, once that child has seen it you can’t un-see it, right? So, once the child has taken a few steps that maybe seemed insignificant to that kid—so, I turned on the video camera because he wanted to see who I was, right? And I thought it was a 13-year-old boy that I was talking to or whatever. Now you can’t take any of that away. Once a picture has gone out, it can’t come back. And so how do we figure out a way to protect our kids from that piece, I think is the harder piece, and it‘s diligent as parents.
I all the time hear parents say, oh, you know, I can keep track of that kind of stuff. I pay attention. Do you really? When was the last time you picked up your kid’s phone and went through each application, and found out what those games were and who they talked to while they were on those games, because a lot of them are Internet games, right? They can talk to somebody else on the other side. Did you look and see what‘s being said on those games? Most parents don’t.
Davidson: Do you do that?
Hurley: Yes, I do. I do—I do.
Davidson: Every day? Or every week?
Hurley: No, but, you know, every so often we do that. But I also have different software—and I won’t name software, because you can go find your own—but there are software that are downloaded on every computer in my home so that the pornography and those kinds of things can’t come into my home, so that I can monitor what happens with my kids.
And there‘s a password, so if they’re trying to look at something they should look at, well then, here’s the password and I put that in and they can go ahead to go to that site. But it keeps a lot of those chat things out. That software can be downloaded on the phone as well for the same thing. Do I look at what my kids download? Yeah, and I have teenagers, right, who are kind of in the “Mom!” But I still—I do, and they understand—the phone doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to me.
And this is why I’m trying to keep you safe, is because I don‘t want these things to happen. Because again, once it‘s in there—once they’re a victim, you can’t erase that. You can’t ever take that back once it‘s happened, and so if I can do everything possible to not allow that to happen, I’m going to. I mean, why would we not? And I don‘t think it‘s any differently than years ago, there were other things that we protected our kids from, right? Today it‘s the Internet and the pedophilia—the pedophiles that are on it.
We as parents have to spend that extra time, which I know we’re all busy—trust me, I’m one of them—but we have to spend that extra time to look at what our kids are looking at, because they’re not going to go look for it themselves. It will find your child, because they don’t know what they’re looking for.
Davidson: And I did want to ask what it‘s like being a parent—before I had a son, I was—one of my—I often covered crises, and I always prided myself on being able to cover the war in Iraq, cover the tsunami in Indonesia, cover the earthquake in Haiti, and I’ve seen some horrible things, lots of dead people, dead children. And I always prided myself on having a certain professional detachment, which you know, I would feel things but I would—I was able to do my job. And I haven’t done any of that since I had a kid, and I really do genuinely wonder if I could. It might just be too hard. How do you—I don‘t know, how does that affect you?
Hurley: Well, so, two things. One, I have a great husband who a lot of times reigns me and says, “Erica, calm down, this isn’t our kid. They still have to live. You have to let them out of the house.” Because I think if I could bubble-wrap and keep them at home, I would. So, he helps me reign me back in, especially when I have some pretty horrific cases. I’ll come home and just do the, they’re never allowed out again, I don‘t care, they can’t, right? We had a case a few years ago—and I know we’re probably running out of time—we had a case a few years ago where there was a child who went to a public restroom, right?
They were in a restaurant, the kid just walks down the hall and goes to the public restroom, and there‘s a guy in there waiting for him. He sexually assaulted the child and then stabbed the child seven times—didn’t kill the child, thank God—the dad heard the screaming and they were able to get the child out, and we arrested the bad guy. But I have to say that my children did not go to a public restroom without me going in or my husband going in with them for a very long time, and even now most of the time Jim—somebody will go with them, or we’ll—you know, we’ll—because that‘s hard for me now to even think about, because you think that‘s safe, right?
So, there‘s things like that I think that have probably changed my children’s lives and mine forever, but on the flip side I think most of the time I can keep it in perspective, because as we discussed earlier, most of these families are not coming from normal, well-adjusted, already put-together families. These kids who are victims are usually coming from drug-affected and other issues, that then fed into them being victims. Obviously my children don’t come from that. So, a lot of what they experience my kids have never experienced to begin with, so I can kind of in my own head, those aren’t going to be my kids, right?
But it doesn’t mean that my kids—you know, my children don’t have sleepovers, they don’t. My children are welcome to have their friends come to my house to have a sleepover, but they don’t go other places because it‘s just not something that happens in my house. And those things change. I think if my kids were younger I would have a much harder time. My children are older now. They can talk, they can tell me what happens, they can make good decisions by saying, “I’m uncomfortable and I don‘t want to go.” And so I see that, which makes it easier.
We do all the child deaths in the City of Portland, as well, in case you didn’t know that. And so, I don‘t know if I could do this case—do this job if I still have babies, because they’re almost all accidental, right? It‘s usually all accidental, but there are ways that children can accidentally die that I never even thought of. I don‘t know if I could have put my kid down if I still had an infant, right? I’d go home and say, no crib, no this, no this, because I’d be worried about them. So, I think that would be harder.
But most of the time I can see the good I do. I can see the children that I save, the children that I make their life better even if for a period of time, right? And that all makes it worth the fact that my children are never allowed to leave.
Davidson: Great. I had one last thing. I just wanted to know how you got into this, both how did you become a cop—what was that decision like—and then how did you get this cop specialty?
Hurley: Okay, so, my father’s a police officer, and so obviously I grew up with it. My brother is also an officer, so therefore we got into it that way. So, my brother went to take the test, and I was finishing up college and admittedly couldn‘t afford law school, because I had intended to become a lawyer. And my brother said, “Hey, I’m going to take the test. Why don’t you come with me?” And I said, all right! Well, I passed and here I am, right? That was 20—almost 21 years ago—and when I got into it I thought, well, I’ll become an officer but I’ll go to law school once I finish probation, right, and I’ll be able to go to school while I’m doing this.
And I loved this job and said, why would I sit behind a desk all day, right? I get to go out and drive fast and have a different day every day, and I love that. So, I really enjoyed my job. And some point street work becomes harder as you get older, and it‘s harder to chase bad guys because you‘re older, and I—and in street work you rarely get to finish the case, right? So, you get to—you get to take those children into protective custody to make sure they’re okay, but you never know what happens to those kids.
And so, it was an easy decision for me to take the promotional exam and become a detective, because to me that‘s—I like the whole brain part of it, right, figuring out what happened and the who-done-it and whatever—I went through many different things. I’ve been through assault and homicide and sex crimes, and I did all of those initially when I became a detective, and although they’re all good—they‘re good crimes to solve and there‘s some really decent victims, there is no better—and this doesn’t sound right, but there‘s no better victim than a child.
No matter what they did, didn’t deserve what you gave to that child. They don’t deserve to be shaken. They don’t deserve to be broken. They don’t deserve to be abused. It doesn’t matter what they did, right? I don‘t care if they cried all night, they still didn’t deserve what you gave them. Sometimes with assault cases you go, well, you know, if you‘d said that me I probably would have hit you, too. So, the sympathy for your victims sometimes is not always as great, right?
But with children cases you can always feel good about going in and doing those cases because you always have a very clear bad guy and a very clear, innocent victim. I hope that some of the changes that we make with these kids when they’re young make them not my adult suspects someday, right? And so, I like that piece. I like the fact that we get in young enough that maybe we can actually make a difference in their lives instead of just kind of cleaning up that day.
Davidson: So, I feel like you are—you embody a—something that‘s a real fascination in our culture, I mean, specifically a young, female, child abuse victim cop. You know, there‘s The Killing—there‘s, like—you know, I feel like I’m tempted to just get you on a plane and let’s get to Hollywood and start having some meetings, you know? What—are there shows and movies that you‘ve found accurate? Are there ones that particularly drive you crazy?
Hurley: First I have to tell you my pet peeve about the police TV shows, which by the way I do watch and like. But let me tell you about my pet peeve, okay? As a female detective in plain clothes—and I put a gun on—that side of my pants always slips just a little because it‘s a little heavier, right? You will never see a Hollywood detective who doesn’t have their pants perfect, because they have a plastic gun with no bullets in it, okay? So, there‘s my pet peeve of all these videos, because I go, “I couldn‘t wear that because it wouldn‘t fit that way.”
So, just so you know, there‘s my pet peeve. They have accuracies and not accuracies on all of them. The biggest thing that I think that is inaccurate is the timeframe, right? There is no way in 45 minutes you‘re going to solve pretty much any crime, right? DNA sometimes can take six months to a year to come back, so I may have a rape case with a child that I might have DNA and it may be eight months before I find that DNA in order to do something with the case.
So, timeframe is so different than it is on the job—or, on the TV. I think that some of the emotions they go through [it] are very similar to what we deal with, right? I think you look at the SVU or some of those things and they are incredibly emotional, and even the people watching them become emotional about those things, because there are pretty horrific things that we deal with. I can’t put across to people what it‘s like to deal with this stuff all the time.
Davidson: Because you talk about it without a lot of emotion just here, but we’re sitting and doing an interview. But you do—it is tough—it is –
Hurley: Oh, absolutely. There are days that I go home that I just—I just sit down and hug my kids, right? I just want to sit down on the couch and hug my kids and put in a movie, because I just want to say, “I love you. I just—I want you to know that think love you.” And I think I probably tell my kids that more than anybody else does, and to say to them you can tell me anything—no matter what ever happens, you can talk to me, I don‘t care what it is, right? You can talk to me.
Because they need to know that. They need to know that I will never be angry with them. Because I think one of the biggest things we see in our victims a lot of times I, I didn’t want to make them mad. I didn’t want them to know that I had done this. You didn’t do anything, they did it to you, that‘s totally different. But unfortunately, especially with your older victims—your 8, 9, 10, 12-year-olds—the bad guy makes them feel guilty. “You asked for this. You‘re the one that wanted the hug, right? You know, you‘re the one that wanted . . .” And so now all of a sudden it‘s their fault. They’re not going to talk, “Because it‘s my fault this happened.” No, it‘s not, and I try to say that to my children. This is—no matter what, this is never your fault, so you come to me if something happens.
Or even if just you don’t feel comfortable. If you don’t like so-and-so’s dad or so-and-so’s uncle, you say so and you won’t have anything to do with them and I’m okay with that, and you don’t have to explain it to me. I’m fine, right? I don‘t care who it is. If it‘s someone in our own family that you don’t want to give a hug to when they leave, don’t hug them. I’m okay with that.
And giving them that ability, right? But—and I think that little ones obviously I think are the hardest for me to deal with, so I think that when you—when you look at the TV and the things that happen on the TV—back to your original question—a lot of those emotional I think are the same. I’m religious, I’m Christian, and so a lot of—for me I can go back to that, I know that those babies that I go out to that are dead are in a better place. I know God’s taken them home in my mind, there‘s no question about that, versus just the tragedy that you see, right?
And a lot of those cases, I see where I go and I know those children are in a much better place than where I went to find them. Because although they were accidental deaths, most of them are neglectful deaths, right? And so you can see that and say, what would have happened to this child if he really had grown up here versus being able to just go to God? And so, I can justify that easier in my own mind, right? I think that gives me some peace on how to deal with those things.
Davidson: Is there any show or movie that you particularly thought, yeah, that‘s me up there?
Hurley: No, I don‘t think so. No, I can’t say there‘s any particular one. I don‘t know of any—not that they’re maybe not out now—but I don‘t know of any that are specific to child crimes, right? I’ve watched some that have specific sex abuse crimes, or I’ve seen some of the Criminal Minds that deal specifically with—and now those when you see the pedophiles on them, you‘re like, oh yeah, that‘s totally true. So, I can relate with specific episodes of things, right? Because they—they do some pretty good pedophiles on some of those shows, and –
Davidson: And sometimes accurately?
Hurley: And sometimes very accurately. Oh, absolutely, yeah. I think a lot of them do their homework pretty well before they get those on there, which is pretty scary, right? And I think the only difference is like, you look at the—a lot of the crime shows and they do a ton of strange stuff, right? Which really is not as accurate. Yeah, they happen, they’re just not as common, and they do less I think familial, which is obviously the most common that we have.
Davidson: I remember NYPD Blue had this story arc of a dad who abused and then killed his son, and it was—it seemed to me very real. It was about—I mean, a lot of what you said reminded me of that.
Hurley: I didn’t see that one, but I’m sure—like I said—and I know a lot of those take from our cases. So, our cases here in Portland—and I’m sure other cities are very similar—ours are all confidential cases, right? So, if you as the media wanted to go and get a copy of these cases, you can’t. Any child cases are confidential cases. When the decision is made to—once it‘s adjudicated and those things, you can get a copy with everything redacted, right? I mean, everything redacted much more so than you would a normal policy report—and so I’m sure that a lot of these Hollywood places go and get to some degree real cases, right? In order to kind of look into those.
But if you ever looked at some of our cases and just the interviews, it‘s incredible to me what they will admit to having done and what they will admit to thinking about and fantasizing about, and even the steps that they go through to get what they got.
Davidson: All right, well, I feel like I could talk forever, but is there anything I haven’t asked about or we haven’t talked about that you feel people misunderstand about your job, or you‘d want them to know?
Hurley: You know, I don‘t think misunderstand as much as—well, I think the biggest issue, obviously we’ve talked about a lot of things here and I’ve watched your face to see that some of it is very distributing, right? When I go to a cocktail party and people say, “Hey, what do you do for a living?” I’m a police officer, but we don’t discuss what I do for a living, and I think that‘s actually probably one of the hardest things about the job I’m in now. In all the jobs I’ve had before this you go and tell the story, oh yeah, I got in a great pursuit yesterday and we did this, and you know, the guy crashed, and it was blowing up, and all this fun stuff, and you have all these great police stories.
And in this particular job there‘s no great police stories, right? Because nobody wants to hear who I put away last week, and yeah, I got 50 years for him. But you don’t want to hear the story of why. And I don‘t go home and tell my children these stories, right? It used to be that you go home and tell the kids the stories of the police chase and the fun stuff that we got to do, and now we just talk about the fact that I help ids. And so when I leave at midnight or we’re down sitting down for dinner, and the pager goes off and I have to leave, my children say, “Do you have to go help a kid?” And I say, yeah, there‘s someone in the hospital. And my daughter will give me a hug and say, you know, “Go help that kid, mom, and make sure that they’re all better.” And I’ll do that.
So, that‘s the difference I think with the job I do now in comparison to anything else. And so, I think people don’t understand what we do because they don’t want to hear what we do, because it‘s scary, right? I mean, aren’t you terrified now as a parent, right? So, it‘s scary. So, we just aren’t able to really tell people what we do, because I don‘t think most people want to know.