When reports of an alleged crime against a child or sexual assault of a child or an adult land on Detective Kelsey Harrington’s desk, she begins the difficult task of uncovering the truth of what happened.
Harrington began patrolling the Baker District for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in 2014. In 2016, she was promoted to detective and began investigating sexual assaults of children and adults, crimes against children and internet crimes.
Harrington grew up in Gastonia and developed an interest in law enforcement while still in high school at Piedmont Community Charter School. She attended the Citizen’s Police Academy for Youth, a program sponsored by the Gaston County Police that introduces youth to various topics in law enforcement. Harrington completed Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) at Gaston College in 2014.
Harrington doesn’t investigate these crimes alone. She works closely with the Child Advocacy Center (CAC), where interviews and medical exams are conducted for child victims. She meets with a multidisciplinary team monthly that’s made up of law enforcement, a representative from the District Attorney’s office, CAC, interviewers, victim advocates, therapists, doctors, nurses and DSS.
“I know it probably sounds cliche, but it’s a saying that I think definitely holds true in this field,” Harrington said. “We speak for those who can’t speak for themselves and that’s 100 percent true here.”
In some cases, children won’t speak about what happened to them or are too young to talk. Harrington said those situations are especially difficult, both to work and to prove. Investigators depend on medical professionals and facts uncovered through her investigations.
Harrington is thankful the community has the CAC, not just for their work with children, but also for the specialized training. She’s received training related to medical aspects, victims overcoming trauma, interviewing perpetrators, addressing new ways to investigate child maltreatment whether physical or sexual, neglect, kids exposed to domestic violence, and human trafficking.
“We learn how we can not only prevent these things and recognize them, but also try to help the kids that have gone through it,” Harrington said.
As for adult victims, Harrington is with them from the moment their assault is reported all the way through to the close of their case. Working with other professionals on the multidisciplinary team helps her keep track of victims throughout their healing process.
Harrington’s workload keeps her busy. She estimates that she and her partner, Det. Daniel Renn, see about 200 cases of child abuse, sexual assaults on adults and children, and child pornography per year. She and her coworkers help each other deal with the stress of the job.
“It’s not like I can come home and call my mom and say: listen to what I saw today. I don’t even know how to get this out of my head,” Harrington said. “I can’t tell anybody else.”
She considers her coworkers family and gives them credit in helping her learn and grow in her work. They’re the only ones that she can talk to about her experiences.
“We lean on each other,” Harrington said. “The biggest way for me to decompress after a hard case or having to see something horrible is to talk to the guys I work with because I can tell them what’s going on. They’ve seen it too and understand.”
Despite the stresses of the job, Harrington still calls it rewarding.
“Even though people see the people we arrest in the news and the things that those people have done, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Harrington said. “It’s not all about putting a person in jail. We also have to remember the aftermath of everything. Just because a person is in jail doesn’t mean that the victim is better. It’s nice to see that victims can go all the way through and make it and we’re able to help them succeed in that.”