by Matthew Early
Tiffin University’s undergraduate chapter of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP-u:TU) welcomed the renowned Dr. Virginia Braden to campus on the evening of Wednesday, November 3. Braden is a seasoned private investigator, hostage negotiator, author and chaplain, having spent over two decades in the criminal justice field. During this time, she has consulted on local, state and federal violent crime investigations, cold cases and wrongful conviction allegations, and has received numerous awards/accolades for her efforts. Most notably, though, she is an outspoken advocate for victims of wrongful imprisonment, and remains dedicated to the exoneration of such people. Dr. Braden was invited to campus for the purpose of educating students and staff on this issue, as well as informing the attendees as to how they can further support the cause to which she has dedicated much of her professional life.
Braden spoke openly about the obstacles she faced during childhood and adolescence. The oldest of six children, she often had to protect her younger siblings from the wrath of their father, a respected community pillar and family man in the public’s eye, but a manipulative cult leader and child abuser behind closed doors. She was candid in talking about the daily abuse she and her family suffered at his hands, and likened watching her sister get strangled until her face turned blue to being “just another Tuesday.” For her, this was normal, yet she knew that to most, it would have been anything but.
She knew early on that getting an education was the way to pave a better life for herself, and claimed that by the age of eight, she had already made the decision to become a “book doctor,” to quote her childhood self. In a true representation of the expression, spinning straw into gold, she spent her formative years practicing hostage negotiation and “talk-down” (de-escalation) techniques on her father during his episodes of rage. This, coupled with her traumatic experience of being kidnapped and raped as a college student, is what she believes inspired her to pursue a career in violent crimes investigations, with a special interest in the wrongfully imprisoned.
Braden explained that the sentiment “None forgotten, none silent” acts as inspiration behind her motivation to pursue these cases of wrongful imprisonment. She wants to “speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves,” as she knows all too well what it is like to not have a voice, to not know where to turn in one’s hour of need.
“I was an abused child, I was a victim of rape, but this is another kind of silence, a silence that comes only after someone screams ‘I’m innocent,’ from their cell, but no one cares. Too many people trust the justice system to do its job perfectly.”
During the evening, Dr. Braden spoke to the specifics of many cases she has investigated over the years, proving herself particularly quotable. Here are a few noteworthy ones:
- “That’s my record. Within two hours, I’d found someone who’d been missing for over twenty years.”
- “Social media is God’s gift to investigators everywhere.”
- With tears in her eyes, “I just know they would be pounding the pavement, boots to the ground, looking for answers if they could. That’s where I come in.”
- “Good investigators need oceans of empathy, to understand that every human life has value.”
At the event’s conclusion, Dr. Braden fielded questions from eager attendees, and even stayed late to speak with each OIP-u:TU member individually, offering words of advice. Her warm reception was nothing if not further proof of just how admirable people believe this line of work to be, and how grateful they are to her for having the courage to do it.
Note: The Ohio Innocence Project is the state’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, and to the reformation of a justice system that would allow wrongful convictions to occur. Tiffin University is proud to house an undergraduate student chapter of an organization doing such impactful work. For more information, please visit their Facebook Page.
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