“My favorite book growing up was Harriet the Spy,” Erika Krouse says, speaking by phone from her home in Colorado. “It’s funny because that’s what I ended up doing. [Harriet] wanted to be a writer, and she wanted to be a spy, and I did too.”
In 2002, years after Krouse’s Harriet the Spy phase, she had a chance encounter with a corporate lawyer in a bookstore. At the time, she was a 33-year-old fiction writer working a series of temp jobs, but there was something about her face that had always made people, including this lawyer, confess their innermost secrets to her. After experiencing this phenomenon for himself, the attorney offered Krouse a job as a private investigator, and she accepted. As she writes in Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation, “I wanted to help people and find things out, not necessarily in that order.”
That moment in the bookstore launched Krouse’s five-year investigative career, which included work on a landmark Title IX case involving college football players and recruits who raped fellow students at a party. For legal reasons, Krouse changed their names in the book. “I was committed to keeping the survivors safe,” she explains, “but the funny thing is, I also had to disguise the perpetrators, even though they didn’t deserve it, because some of that could have splashed back at the survivors.” The only concrete details she provides are that, at the time of the case, she was living “in the Front Range foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, in a small city that hosted a university and a swarm of tech startups.” It’s enough information for readers to connect the dots with a quick internet search.
“It’s the most famous case that no one’s ever heard of,” Krouse says. “There have been whole books about Title IX sexual assault that don’t mention this case, which is amazing to me because it was the first college case like this.” Krouse’s sleuthing helped reveal that the football team had used alcohol and sex as recruiting tools. The school eventually reached a settlement in 2007, with one victim receiving $2.5 million and another receiving $350,000.
At the time, Krouse didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of her involvement. “I’ve been thinking about this recently,” she says. “How many times in your life do you get an opportunity to save someone when they need it or work on something that's important? That's not ordinary life, right? Ordinary life—you’re just trying to pay the bills and get groceries and get here and get there. So when these opportunities do come up, it is actually an extraordinary circumstance. And a lucky one. A very, very lucky one.”
Throughout the memoir, Krouse also writes about her own childhood experiences of sexual abuse by a man she calls X. “I would have preferred to use his identity,” she says, “but in some ways, it was freeing not to—in that, this is a person who doesn’t even get to have a name.” Another benefit of this approach was that she didn’t have to address any of the psychological factors that may have contributed to his crimes. “I could just focus on the functionality of this person, which is that he was a perpetrator,” she says, “and not have to spend a lot of time humanizing someone who dehumanized me.”
At first, Krouse didn’t plan to address her own victimization in the book. “I generally don’t talk about my history, even with friends,” she says. She didn’t even discuss it while working on the sexual assault case. But as Tell Me Everything began to take shape, she decided, “I’m writing about all of these very brave women. For me not to even talk about my own past would be cowardly.”
Krouse knew her personal history would make investigating a sexual assault case tricky. “In some ways, I think I might have been able to be more strategic had I had more distance from the topic of sexual violence,” she says. “But in other ways, I think I was able to understand the people I was talking to on a deeper level. I don’t know what the balance is.”
Since she had no prior detective experience, Krouse learned on the job. Luckily, she says, fiction writers are uniquely qualified to be PIs. “We love the narrative. And we think, ‘Oh, wow. That moment back when they were 4 years old contributed to this completely unrelated thing.’ We like the web, and the way we figure out the next clue, so to speak, is never in a linear way. It's always roundabout.”
Krouse’s chops as a writer, plus her talent for making strangers spill their guts, gave her an edge, but there was still plenty of trial and error. She readily admits, with a laugh, that as an Aries, her modus operandi tends to be “ready, fire, aim.” But this approach worked. “I don’t think there’s a way to prep in advance because so much is fluid,” she says. “I definitely had no idea what I was doing, and that feeling turned out to be an asset because we were in new legal territory. Nobody had done a case like this, ever.”
Krouse says she never imagined that she’d write a book about sexual assault until suddenly, she was doing it. The process has been healing—“but not in a warm bath and candles kind of way,” she says. “I think there’s some strength to planting your flag in the sand and saying, ‘This is me, and here I am. Deal with it.’”
Headshot of Erika Krouse courtesy of the author