READ.THE.REPORT, Part 2: Of Shame and Reassurance

Peruse for a second the statement of Loretta Jackson. She’s a former child sexual abuse detective and perhaps the only person at LPD ever to have treated Sue Eberle as something other than a “feral cat” or “whore” — terms we’ll come to in a moment.

For now, imagine how this will go over in court, or in front of a hearing officer, or whatever is in store.

Officer Jackson initially did not believe Eberle’s stories. She especially doubted those stories which detailed Eberle’s ongoing sexual encounters with various LPD officers, supervisors, and administrators. It wasn’t until Eberle began providing her sexual oriented text messages and naked photos from the officers as proof that she began to believe her. Initially Officer Jackson was intrigued by the unbelievable hidden life that Eberle and many of her co-workers were engaged in, referring to it as a soap opera. She saw this as somewhat exciting and it was much different than her personal life which she considered to be fairly boring.

Officer Jackson has experience as a Crimes Against Children Detective. She has worked with many victims and has seen first hand the effects of sexual molestation on children. Over time, she began to feel that Eberle’s dysfunctional sexual behavior was a result of her childhood victimization, abuse and lack of intervention, which made her concerned. She noted that Eberle was not engaging in this behavior for personal gain or physical satisfaction, and began to see that she was being used and victimized by many of the people she was engaged with. She felt that, although Eberle didn’t believe so, Eberle’s inability to say “no”, her desire to please, and her sexual promiscuity made her a target among the LPD officers. [emphasis mine]

Eberle confided in Officer Jackson her most hidden secrets, asked her not to judge her and turn away, and looked to her for friendship and advice. Officer Jackson stated that when she later realized “what a train wreck” the situation was, she didn’t know how to handle it. She kept the information a secret, even the instances that Eberle relayed that she had been raped by LPD officers. In her mind, she questioned whether it had really happened and then whether to deal with it as a friend who was a trusted confidant, or a police officer. She stated that she chose not to bring the issues out, until Eberle asked her to intervene on her behalf amid the internal affair investigation with Eberle and Steve Sherman. She was especially fearful to do so considering the many people that were involved at varying levels of the Lakeland Police Department. Her main intervention with Eberle was trying to act as an advisor, regularly attempting to dissuade her from risky behavior. Officer Jackson did acknowledge that there were occasions when she would engage Eberle to obtain and keep text messages and photos of the officers to protect herself. She acknowledged that she began to question if she wasn’t part of the problem, and actually tried to stay away from Eberle and her scandalous affairs for a short period of time.

Ultimately, Jackson delivered the list of Eberle’s names to Michele Newsome, the LPD internal investigator. One need not excuse Loretta Jackson’s hesitation and uncertainty and inaction to recognize that she at least wrestled with her conscience, worried about her friend, and tried to help as best she could. That puts her on far higher moral plain than just about anyone else in this sorry spectacle. I don’t know if she’s in trouble, but I hope she keeps her job. We’ll need people with consciences to rebuild that place if we don’t burn it down.

I also recognize in Jackson something similar to my own very rapid evolution. I, too, thought of this as a quantitative scandal when I first heard of it — an unusually large-scale type of “soap opera” common to organizations. It wasn’t until I READ.THE.REPORT, that I grasped the qualitative difference — the sort of mass sexual psychosis and viciousness it showed within the department and elements of the city government.

When I wrote the “Pray for Sue Eberle” piece, I frankly expected much more “slut-shaming” than I got. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to it from people across the political and cultural spectrum.

It wasn’t really until Eberle’s lawyer started talking about “exceptionally, if not historically” toxic environments that the shamers came out in some force, mostly in anonymous comment threads. Nothing is more fetid than an anonymous comment thread on a “whore or victim” story. I don’t spend much, if any time, engaged there. But some of it has spilled over to my neck of the woods on Lakeland Local. I’ve received several comments trashing Eberle that I won’t post until the writers respond to my emails. You can comment here anonymously or with a pseudonym. But I need to know who you are before that happens. House rules.

And if you write something like, “As for that lame anecdote where the sgt pulled out and stuck it in her rear? so what? that happens, that doesnt make it rape. Fromn all accounts the women isn’t a saint or a virgin by any means,” — as one of you did, I won’t bother to email. You’re never getting a comment published here. Ever. Go somewhere else. House rules.

To her credit, commenter Jessica Roberts put her full name on her thoughts. And she engaged seriously with what I wrote. She articulated a forceful position that seems a minority here at LL, but probably not in the world at large. I respect her for that. It’s worth engaging her points, at least for me.

Here’s what Jessica wrote:

I’ve read this multiple times, and while I sympathize with Eberle, you’ve taken away her personal responsibility by painting her as the victim of all victims. If she is so weak and feeble minded, how can she hold down a full time job or raise two children? Why doesn’t she have a full time caretaker to make sure she makes good decisions day in and day out.

Eberle is a willing victim who could have left the police department at any time, but chose to stick around. Have you considered that she liked the attention? She was able to pick and choose who she had sex with and even told a couple of men no. She’s not as dumb as you presume.

Also remember, she didn’t bother to come forward as a victim until she got caught at Carpenters Home Church. Now she’s been humiliated and wants some money. We all thought she was a whore until she made the child molestation claims, and now she’s playing the role of a martyr. It’s an insult to the millions of women who have been molested or raped, but go on to lead mature, responsible and professional lives.

This city got played and now you can thank LPD leadership and the police union for what might result in a large payout at taxpayers expense.

In no particular order, here are my thoughts in reaction to that:

1) I would be very, very careful about asserting what’s an “insult to the millions of women who have been molested or raped, but go on to lead mature, responsible and professional lives.” In fact, I wouldn’t do it at all. It’s lazy and casual presumption proved precisely wrong by one of the “millions of women” who very bravely commented on the same exact piece that Jess said she read multiple times. She should read that comment and see if she can retype that sentence. People decide their own insults.

2) Likewise on the “we all thought she was a whore” stuff. What she meant to say is, “I, Jessica Roberts, thought she was a whore.” Do not project your definitions and slurs onto me. I no more attach currency or meaning to the word “whore” than I do to the word “nigger”. When I use the word “we”, and I do, you’ll find it’s in much broader social context much harder to disprove and based on pretty close personal observation.

3) I’ve come in contact with two people who made an effort to know and befriend Sue Eberle — Loretta Jackson through her testimony and commenter Roni Rivera, whom I’ve also spoken to in person. They seem to be the only two people who didn’t either try to have sex with Eberle or consider her a problem to stay away from. Remember, Eberle’s lawyer claims Eberle’s supervisor dismissed her as a “feral cat.”

The personal observations of Jackson and Rivera clearly support my speculation about Eberle’s mindset and behavior. Moreover, Jackson is a trained child sex abuse investigator. One assumes she has interacted with many people like Eberle. And she told investigators she recognized her behavior in the context of child sexual abuse. It’s a big part of what pricked her conscience.

4) As I get older, the darker facts of the world and humanity increasingly dawn on me.

One of the darkest facts, one that has crept up on me gradually and sinisterly over time, until it all but screams, is this: The number of women who have experienced something that we would or might call rape is astonishingly high. It has this terrible corollary: The number of women — and men, too — whose first sexual experience would or might be called rape is similarly astonishing. I suspect the percentages in both cases might exceed 50 percent. The first might be way higher than that. Who knows? It almost certainly means that any number of “good people” are also rapists, overwhelmed by the most powerful force in the universe. And, of course, some women and men and children falsely accuse other women, men, and children of rape–further darkening this darkest corner of our existence.

Indeed, rape is a hazardously broad word. One tries to define it or discuss it at one’s own risk. Ask the Republican party.

All I’ll say, as humbly as possible, is that people, and women and girls particularly, experience sexual violence or coercion in a million different ways. Full sexual abduction by a stranger on the street; one-time clumsy fondling by a distant relative at a family reunion; deranged father or mother or loved one; drunken miscommunication with an otherwise gentle boyfriend not in control of his urges; revved up mobs; skulking priest or minister. I could dwell all day on the mechanics of acts and scenarios that we might bundle under the term rape; and I still wouldn’t come close to enumerating them all. The varieties of sexual violence experience are endless, and they bleed into the varieties of sexual experience. Indeed, the phrase “rape fantasy” comes up in the State Attorney report. That’s why prosecutions are perilous. In sex, law and morality do not neatly overlap.

I’ve never experienced or participated in any of these rape scenarios. (You can choose to believe that or not. Sort of meaningless to assert, I know.) But I suspect, based on observation, that they all inflict great, lasting trauma. However, I will also suggest, at the risk of incurring people’s wrath, that some forms inflict greater, more debilitating trauma than others.

Enter Sue Eberle. I look at what she apparently endured — sustained caregiver rape from the time she was 7 with no intervention, ever — and wonder how she’s even alive. When I apply my cheap psychological diagnosis, I see a terrified, brutalized, powerless 7-year-old girl trapped in a woman’s body and hormones in a place full of aggressive and pitiless men lacking any self-awareness. She also had the deep misfortune, it seems, of being somewhat attractive. (I’m sorry if that sounds tacky.)

How does that translate into a person’s adult behavior? Immaturity, weakness, recklessness, promiscuity? How do you think it would translate for you? Not asking that of Jess; I’m asking that of anyone reading.

To me, wrestling with that question is the bare minimum I owe for the galactic good fortune of growing up in stable home, with protective and loving parents, with access to virtually every conceivable perk of privilege, and a mind capable of seizing opportunities.

But the even larger question I wrestle with, as I become ever more aware of human darkness, is this:

How can I live in this world with both honesty and kindness while taking any pleasure from my own good fortune? I think it’s the central question for people like me lucky enough not to have suffered too much from the horrors that afflict so many others. Or lucky enough to have the personal resources to overcome them or not even recognize them as horrors.

I have two answers.

First, it always, always has been this way. To suggest otherwise is self-pitying indulgence. Read Hamlet. Read The Plague. Visit Antietam. Visit the Torture Museum in the shadow of the gorgeous Siena Cathedral in Italy.

Check it out, here’s an actual medieval chastity belt. And below that, well, let’s just say there’s nothing new about institutional sexual cruelty.

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Hell, read my crappy book about the good old days of Florida in the 1920s. The process of writing it made me more optimistic about the future because it informed me quite viscerally about the past. Humans aren’t getting worse; I’m just more aware. In many ways, I think the human darkness is less dark and lightening. We need to help it however we can because that’s not guaranteed to continue.

Which leads to my second answer.

Jessica asks: If she is so weak and feeble minded, how can she hold down a full time job or raise two children? Why doesn’t she have a full time caretaker to make sure she makes good decisions day in and day out.

The second part of that is, frankly, stupid. I’m sure many of us would like a personal nanny to look out for us. The endless financial and logistical reasons for why we don’t have one are obvious.

But the first part is a fair question.

I tend to describe myself as a happy fatalist. I believe the sticky muck of human avarice and incentives sucks at us constantly. And then we die. So I think it’s a triumph worth noting when we manage to rip our faces free to take a look around and breath some air.

Considering the depth of her personal muck, the fact that Sue Eberle apparently managed to “hold down a full time job or raise two children” is a greater accomplishment than anything I have ever done. Rather than celebrate or marvel at that, Jessica used it as weapon against her.

One can simultaneously admire what Eberle overcame, recoil from what was done to her mostly with her permission, and recognize that her pathologies and behavior make her unable to work at LPD. We’re not required to choose.

Jessica accuses me of taking away Eberle’s “personal responsibility.” I did no such thing. I did not ask anyone to excuse, emulate, or pay Sue Eberle. I asked people to pray for her. And then I explained why I feel the way I do about her, based on the imperfect knowledge I have. I took away nothing. But I did try to give her back something — a little humanity. I tried to be a sympathetic face in the mob that would cheer and chuckle over her burning. I’m gratified that so many other people wanted to be sympathetic faces.

I sought to change Sue Eberle from a brutal joke to a person, to the limited extent that my powers allow. I think she deserves to be an object of prayer more than a snarling punchline. I apologize to no one for that for thinking that and sharing it. I’m proud of it. But Jessica finds it demeaning to millions of people she doesn’t know. I guess that’s just the difference in how we perceive the world.

5) Of all the grim realities here, the one that motivated Jessica to write was the idea that Sue Eberle might get paid, or that she might play martyr. I find that striking.

The second part of my headline was “Atone for LPD’s torture.” Jessica didn’t bother to address that at all. Whatever one thinks of Eberle’s culpability, do you think what we know of her background and her adult behavior makes the behavior of the men who had power over her worse? Loretta Jackson, the child sex abuse investigator, damn sure thought so.

I think it’s fair to say that most sex between co-workers, even between boss and employee, isn’t inherently cruel to one of the parties. (Not an endorsement, just an observation.) It produces as many marriages as roiled workplaces. I see the LPD horror as very different. Jessica seems not to.

To the extent she considers them at all, she seems willing to grant the men here general sexual misconduct, run-of-the-mill horniness, but not emotional (and maybe physical) abuse. She’s certainly not willing to call it torture. After all, who would participate in their own torture? To consider it torture would mean feeling something for Sue Eberle the whore–and who knows where that would lead? So, to avoid shelling out a dime of her hard-owned tax money, Jessica is willing to let Sue Eberle’s whorishness mitigate what those endless men with power over her did in Jessica’s name and mine. It’s a small price to pay for making sure Sue Eberle doesn’t have her personal responsibility taken away.

For a non-religious person, I tend to see this in rather Biblical terms. If a jury dropped $10 million on Sue Eberle, I would generally shrug and look at it as my penance for not writing all this stuff sooner. For not being a better citizen overseer of the men and women who wield power in my name. I have no personal moral problem thinking of any money she might receive as a reparation for the social violence and cruelty inflicted on her throughout her existence. But I certainly understand that opinions differ, and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on that. And I clearly understand that you can’t have an actual governing and legal system that awards money based on who got screwed by life. We’d never stop paying.

Fortunately for Jessica and the shamers, we don’t have a system that operates that way. So let me try to reassure you all about what’s going to happen to Sue Eberle.

Hopefully Kemp Brinson can confirm my legal understanding, but I believe the city of Lakeland, like other government entities in Florida, has a $100k cap on lawsuit damages. This is known as sovereign immunity. To get more, you have to take your case to the Florida Legislature in what’s known as a claims bill. Legislators would have to vote to authorize payment of more money. Neil Combee’s sympathy aside, I find it quite unlikely that a majority of this Legislature would vote to kick in more money to Sue Eberle the whore. If there’s another path to payout that I’m missing, please let me know.

So, she’ll probably do a maxed out $100k settlement, of which her lawyer will take around 35 percent. That’s standard. So she might get a one-time $60K-70K chunk.

Because I’m capable of following my own logic where it leads, I have to ask myself, if Sue Eberle made a nice juicy target for a large swath of the LPD operational command structure, what will she make out there in the world when dudes think she has money? That applies whether it’s $60K or $10 million.

I hope I’m wrong, but if I were in Jessica’s shoes, I wouldn’t worry too much about that money making Eberle happy. I suspect someone will come along to liberate her from it, one way or another.

That would seemingly please Jessica considerably more than it would please me. I congratulate her on her virtue.

4 thoughts on “READ.THE.REPORT, Part 2: Of Shame and Reassurance

  1. You do understand that when Jess (as you dismissively refer to her) questioned why Eberle didn’t have a full time caregiver that she was making a point by using sarcasm? Right? That’s just one example of what seems to be your inability to see anyone else’s viewpoint from way up there on your moral high ground. I think you took the easy way out. You and most of your commenters seem to be very impressed with your collective abilities to be so way more empathetic than the rest of us, and trip all over yourselves to tell us all how we are missing some essential moral truth. By the way, if you believe i “should re-type” any of these sentences please forgive me as i wrote this on the fly. Snarky does not become you. Jessica (thats her name) made two good points:(1) your comments do absolve (to a very large degree) the woman of responsibility for her actions and by extension insult other women who have survived sexual abuse (yup i said it), and (2). The timing of her claims is suspicious. For what its worth i believe the woman. She is no liar. And it sucks that people didn’t take better care of another human being, especially one so damaged as Mrs. Eberle. But what responsibility does Mrs. Eberle bear? That’s a real question. My wife experienced childhood sexual abuse similar to what was described. But I can tell you from first hand experience that she knows how to say no when pressured to give head in a vehicle. Also btw, my wife agrees with Jessica. Your article took very little courage to write so dont break your arm patting yourself on the back. Have I provided enough ID information for you? If not, call me and tell me what you need.

  2. First, my apologies if I used Jess incorrectly. I’ve met Jessica several times, and I thought she had used it herself. But perhaps I was wrong.

    More substantively, if you’re going to write “We all thought she was a whore,” you should be prepared to back it up. Especially here.

    Beyond that, you’re responding to many things I didn’t write. You can feel free to point out anywhere that I called myself courageous. Jessica made a number of assertions about what I did in the first piece. So I was trying to explain why I did them. That’s how this works when you comment articulately on a piece I write.

    Also, like Jessica, you don’t consider the men at all. Just the whore. I submit that the most important question in this matter is actually what does Sue Eberle’s background and experience — which you seem to believe as much as I do — say about the men who passed her around so joyfully? You can’t even muster an ounce of outrage about that. It’s Eberle — and I guess me, who get the outrage treatment. You really ought to think about that.

    In any event, I obviously do not have the same feelings of outrage towards Eberle as I do toward the men. And I’ve explained why. Again, perhaps that makes morally inferior to you and your wife and Jessica. Sue me.

    And finally, unlike Jessica, I would never presume to speak for what’s an insult to “to millions” of child sex abuse survivors. Your wife’s feelings are certainly as valid as mine. Again, I never asked anybody to admire Sue Eberle’s behavior. I just choose not to shame her. No one makes anyone comment here. If we’re so morally superior and smug, feel free not to read us. There are many, many, many comment threads on newspapers or elsewhere where you and anyone else can call Sue Eberle a whore in public with impunity and speak for other sexual abuse victims. This is not one of them.

  3. Would I sound nuts for wondering if all those people were hired because of their sexual dysfunction? I mean, is Lakeland known as the kind of place where people who have certain employment or legal history can get a job? There sure seem to be an awful lot of people there in trouble for the same thing. Is that just a coincidence? Could there be more to it?

  4. Isn’t this a work comp issue? I think I read she got a labor lawyer.

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