rounding up the bad guys
Fara Gold 00C
The first time I wrote for Women’s News & Narratives was in fall 1999 issue when I just had begun my senior year at Emory. I had attended a national women’s leadership conference that summer and writing that article afterward was part of the privilege of being chosen to go. In an effort to be thought provoking, I drew an analogy between the struggles for control we discussed at the conference and my loss of control when one of my wooden crutches snapped (while boarding an airport train) on the way to the conference. Now, almost a decade later, ironically just days after I had a layover at Hartsfield Airport (the first time I’d been there since graduation), I am humbled to be given a similar opportunity with a remarkably similar theme—the portrayal of my environment, shaped by experiences of my past and the challenges of my present.
My own environment is rewarding but terribly frustrating. It is stable but fabulously unpredictable. I am overworked, underpaid, and only fully appreciated by those who are truly entrenched in this same world. I am a prosecutor, specializing in sex crimes and child abuse—and despite all of that, on most days, I love it. I was the rare college student who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. That is probably the biggest difference between the twenty-year-old me then and the thirty-year-old me now. Back then, I knew I wanted to go to law school and ultimately become a sex crimes prosecutor. Now, having become one, as far as I am concerned, the future is up for grabs.
I made my career decision when I interned at the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center as a sophomore. I realized it would be the most effective way to advocate for rape victims. I was not so concerned about actually putting the rapists in prison. Rather, my objective was to treat the victims fairly and humanely throughout a process which so often seemed to render them voiceless. I thought this would give me an opportunity to do something useful and make a difference in people’s lives. In truth, it does, and I have the thank-you cards and children’s drawings hanging on my door to prove it. However, back then I didn’t know the half of it, not the least of which is that, at the end of the day, it is pretty gratifying to get the bad guy locked up for life.
There are usually two different responses when I tell people I am a prosecutor. First, they say that I should stay away from them. (Why? Because they have recently been on a crime spree and are fugitives from justice?). Then, when I clarify that I prosecute rapists and child molesters, they offer that they could never do that for a living.
As to the latter, I understand their reaction; sometimes I feel the same way. It is the former response, even though it is often said in jest, that continues to aggravate me. It underscores a negative perception that seems to be pervasive. Intellectually, I understand the root of it. The community occasionally sees examples of unethical behavior by overly zealous prosecutors, both in entertainment and in the news. Like any decent prosecutor, I am ashamed of my counterpart in the Duke lacrosse case, believing that he did a complete disservice to the victims. But I also know he was the exception rather than the rule. As with every profession, there are bad and good. I mostly know good prosecutors, individuals who are just as proud to convict a guilty person as they are to dismiss the charges against a person who might not be guilty.
Almost ten years ago when I first wrote that article for this newsletter, I expected to be challenged and wanted to make a difference. I am thankful that both those goals were realized and that I truly enjoy what I do. However, whether it was because I was naïve or idealistic, I never imagined there would be such lack of appreciation and understanding for the work I do.
Statistically, it is said that a very small percentage of the population ever sets foot in a courthouse. Most people never see the direct benefit of what we do, which may be why it is easy to dismiss us as conviction-crazed government bureaucrats. To those who recoil upon learning my profession because they have never been victimized and never set foot in a courthouse, please consider this. Maybe your closest encounter with the criminal justice system has been only a summons for jury duty because we have done our job well, and as a result, that pedophile, armed robber, or murderer never had the opportunity to undo all that you hold dear.
Fara Gold 00C is an Emory Scholar alumna who earned her JD from the University of Miami School of Law in 2003. She serves as an assistant state attorney in Broward County, Florida, currently assigned to the Sex Crimes and Child Unit.