Vachss, A. (1989, August 20). How we can fight child abuse: Tough suggestions from an outspoken expert. Parade Magazine, p. 14-17.
The author, a New York attorney, is formerly the director of the New York City Juvenile Justice Planning Project. His business card reads "Limited to Matters Concerning Children and Youth." Besides being an expert on child abuse, Vachss is a novelist (1989, Hard Candy).
The following article review is presented in a question and answer format.
WHO IS THE CHILD ABUSER?
A pedophile is an individual with intense, recurrent sexually arousing fantasies and urges involving prepubescent children. Such feelings are ‘sick.’ To act on such feelings, to make them a reality, is evil. The predatory pedophile is as dangerous as cancer. He works as quietly, and his presence becomes known only by the horrendous damage he leaves. He (or she) may be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a judge, a scout leader, a police officer, an athletic coach, a religious counselor. And he is protected not only by our ignorance of his presence, but also by our unwillingness to confront the truth.
HOW DO CHILD ABUSERS FEEL ABOUT THEIR ACTIVITIES?
I have encountered many predatory pedophiles. Some boast of their crimes, claiming only a rigid, puritanical society prevents children from ‘freedom of sexual expression.’ Some claim they are ‘addicts,’ unable to stop themselves from preying on children. But the only pedophiles I have ever heard express remorse for their acts are those facing a sentencing court of a parole board.
Predatory pedophiles are clever, calculating criminals. They stalk their victims with great care, working themselves into positions of great trust. They study children as carefully as any psychologist, and their camouflage is our unwillingness to see the shark in our swimming pool.
Sexual molestation of children is a volitional act. It is a matter of choice...Most child molesters are not strangers to their victims. We are far more endangered by those who have our trust than by the relatively rare kidnapper.
WHAT IS THE COST OF CHILD ABUSE TO OUR SOCIETY?
The consequences of their depravity can be found in our psychiatric wards, our prisons and our graveyards. The runaway who turns to child prostitution, the violent juvenile criminal, the teenage suicide...all too many members of this army of victims can be traced to a predatory pedophile’s original attack.
WHY IS OUR SOCIETY FINDING IT SO HARD TO PROSECUTE CHILD ABUSERS?
The ultimate protection of such criminals, the near-immunity they enjoy, is the perception that any individual who sexually molests a child must be ‘sick.’ That trump card is only played when they are caught and prosecuted. That rarely happens. And the ‘rehabilitation’ of predatory pedophiles is fast becoming a growth industry.
HOW SHOULD OUR SOCIETY RESPOND?
Kiddie pornography is not a ‘first amendment’ issue. It is a picture of crime. Incest is not ‘family dysfunction.’ It is rape-by-extortion.
What can be done? The answer is simple: raise the stakes.
The essence of criminal rehabilitation is remorse, Even if it is true that predatory pedophiles are ‘sick,’ that does not mean they can be treated. But, sick or not, they are certainly contagious.
Pedophiles do not regret their actions; they glory in them. They regret only the possible consequence to themselves, not the certainty of damage to their victims.
This is how we raise the stakes:
Significant incarceration for offenders. Child molesters are among the least likely criminals to be prosecuted...and, first in line to receive ‘alternative’ sentencing options such as probation with psychiatric treatment...Let all ‘rehabilitative’ experiments with pedophiles continue. But let them continue behind bars.
The crime of ‘incest’ should be eliminated, and replaced with a flat law against sexual intercourse with minors...An offender should not enjoy a lesser exposure to prison simply because he grew his own victim.
Enhanced penalties for child offenses involving more than one victim...(or) more than one offense against any victim. Second offenses must result in mandatory incarceration.
Increased penalties for ‘networking’ of any kind...child sex rings, trafficking in children, distribution of kiddie pornography and the use of telephone and computer lines to promote...the same.
National registration of convicted child molesters, with agencies and institutions that work with children required to check each potential employee.
Intensive probation supervision for released child molesters, with specialists assigned to each.
Increased use of federal resources for interstate crimes involving child sex abuse...
Training of specialized law enforcement units, both investigative and prosecutorial. Increased support for those already in existence.
Development of new weapons and adaptation of existing ones to this vital task...a regulation bringing child prostitution and pornography within the scope of child labor laws.
WHAT WILL SUCH MEASURES REALISTICALLY ACCOMPLISH?
Some predatory pedophiles will be deterred, and children will be spared. Some will not, and the enhanced penalties will keep them away from their new victims for much longer periods of time. Either way, we benefit.
The trend today is toward accountability. It seems the ultimate irony that while some are demanding children to be tried as adults on the ground of ‘accountability,’ there is still no groundswell of support for the proposition that predatory pedophiles are responsible for their crimes. If we are truly concerned about crime in America, if we truly understand that today’s victim is tomorrow’s criminal, we must act.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Do you think this author loses objectivity about this issue because of his obvious deep feelings?
- To what extent do you agree with his description and diagnosis of the child abuser?
- Are his suggestions for moral and legal response to this problem proper and possibly effective? Does Vachss suggest that this problem can be eliminated?
- Do you think the problem of child abuse has increased in the past decade or so? Are we just hearing more about it?
- If most experts do see child abuse as a growing problem, what might be the deeper cultural reasons for its greater incidence? The author, as an attorney, restricts his suggestions primarily to legal actions. What moral, educational, and spiritual responses to this issue can you suggest?
- This is one person’s perspective, and it is pretty tough. But it is also his expert experience that has molded his attitude.
- This person has seen more than most will ever see on the topic. Yet, he has not become sympathetic or desensitized. He sees the problem as it is.
- Although the problem is horrific, this person has not given up on the victims: the kids themselves.
- This is an issue in which one may or may not become involved, but the principles demonstrated by this one individual are an example for all.
Dean Borgman and Anne Montague cCYS