Andrew Vachss, A Lawyer Who
Represents Children Exclusively
Andrew Vachss (rhymes
with ax), doesn't talk from the point of view from hypothesis or theory. A
warrior, he has exposed child abuse for 30 years. In 1969, he traveled to
Biafra during its genocidal civil war to try to set up a payment system for
foreign aid. Since then, he's been, amongst other occupations, a federal
investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a labor organizer, a director of
a maximum security prison for "aggressive-violent" youth, and since
1976, a lawyer who represents children exclusively. In 1993, Vachss helped
hasten The National Child Protective Act which formed a database to track child
abusers who move from state to state. He is now lending support to the C.A.R.E.
(Child Abuse Reform and Enforcement) Act, which promotes the improvement of
information on, and protections against, child sexual abuse. He has published
If every human was as
driven, focused, and articulate as Andrew Vachss, the world in a generation
would, quite literally and pragmatically, become a better place. As trite and
as unfocused as the rallying cry of "save the children" may seem as
it streams out of a politician's mouth, one gets the diametrically opposite
impression when Mr. Vachss talks about "Today's victim is tomorrow's
predator" and how children are truly the key to a sustained civilization.
What I first approached as an informative exercise and historical context of
child abuse also turned into discussions on political leverage and law, the
nature of serial killers, the nuances of the death penalty, and the United
States' hapless war on drugs.
Special thanks go out
to Vanessa of Fat Wreck Chords for not only raising this to my attention but
also her selfless conviction, and to Lou Bank at Ten Angry Pitbulls for making
this interview possible and take place without a hitch.
Todd: In layman's
terms, what is the legal definition of incest and what is the most prevalent
penalty for it?
Vachss: Well, the
actual definition of incest is sexual contact between people who are related
within a certain degree of consanguinity - blood or marriage. However, its
definition isn't popularly understood, so when people think of incest they
think of first cousins having consensual sex in Kentucky in a shack. They don't
think in terms of a parent and a small child but the law does cover that.
Although, in my opinion, it didn't contemplate such coverage when it was first
passed. If you look at the incest laws, they're quite ancient.
Todd: Is there a
historic precedence for incest.
Vachss: A precedence
Vachss: No. In fact,
quite the contrary. Where it came from was through observation of nature and
humans observed that inbreeding was a dangerous thing. So, even people in the
earliest forms of animal husbandry understood that inbreeding was guaranteed at
some point to produce genetic defectives. Now, if you're talking about the
Egyptian kings, for example, that intermarried. Sure, it happens. There's no
question. There were people in ancient times, and Nazis today who believe that
the way you keep a race or a species or a bloodline pure, you don't mix it with
outside blood. Ipso facto, you're going to have people having sex with their
Todd: I was thinking
that the historical precedence for the United States would be having the
vestige of British rule, which is a monarchy and had a lot of incest in to keep
Vachss: That privilege
was always reserved for royalty. Look, royalty's always reserved to itself
every hideous style or privilege - to torture people that don't agree.
Todd: What is the
legal definition of rape?
Vachss: Sex by force.
However, it's important to understand that force is implied in certain cases
even though no physical violence is used. So, for example, if a child is too
young to consent, or if a person is impaired by mental illness or if a person
is intoxicated, drugged - all of those would be rape, even if the person did
not require physical violence be used to accomplish their end.
Todd: What I want to
deal with is the CARE Act. Why is there a legal difference between incest and
rape and what are the different penalties?
Vachss: The reason is
that it's an anomaly that's hung over. If you stopped any fifty people in the
street, I don't believe you'd find one who would understand that, for example,
a father having sex with his six-year-old daughter could be called incest. So,
it's simply an anachronism in terms of law not having caught up to society.
There's no legal justification for it. There's good reason for an incest
prohibition but an incest prohibition is a societal message. For example, there
is a law against adultery. How many people do you think go to jail for it?
Todd: Very few.
Vachss: OK. Never, in
my life, have I heard of anybody going to jail for adultery. But, because of
the sort of religious underpinning of the country, that law stays on the books
as a way of expressing a view. So, it's fine to have a law in the book that
expresses the view that first cousins shouldn't interbreed, but in reality,
I've never heard of anybody going to jail for what amounts to adult-consensual
Todd: Would there be
probation or anything?
Vachss: Oh yeah, I've
seen people prosecuted for it, but, again, it's such an after-the-fact thing
that nobody expects it to alter the conduct of the party. I've personally been
in numerous cases where there's been incest babies, but all of those involved
children being sexually accessed, not adults. First of all, the FBI does not
break out incest as an index crime. We've attempted to run Bureau of Justice
statistics and we don't see any statistics being kept on incest.
Todd: Even though
there aren't statistical numbers, how widespread would incest and child abuse
Vachss: You mean adult
incest? Or you mean sexual activity within a family with a child as a victim?
Those are really different things to me.
Todd: The second one.
Vachss: First of all,
that doesn't get broken out as incest, but in terms of the numbers of children
who have been sexually abused each year, obviously they're monstrously
significant numbers or you wouldn't have every single state legislating against
it. That's not really debatable. What's debatable here is why any human being
should get special dispensation from the law for having the good taste to have
sex with his own child as opposed to a neighbor's child. And that, if you
examine it historically, as you seem to be interested in doing, stems from property
Todd: That's what I
was trying to figure out.
Vachss: Sure. Because,
look, I have the legal right to burn down my own house. I can't burn down
yours. Well, apparently, I have some degree of legal right to have sex with my
own kid but not with yours. If you look at the radical disparity in penalty, I
think that's true.
Todd: Oprah Winfrey
was helpful in passing the National Child Protection Act.
Vachss: I don't think
it could have been passed without her. I think it justifiably deserves to be
called the Oprah Bill, as many do, because without her financing it just
couldn't have happened as quickly. Most of these efforts, and even that effort,
Todd: Am I correct in
remembering that it passed the House 416 to 0.
Vachss: I don't
believe there was any opposition.
Todd: My question
would be, what would be the opposition to it?
Vachss: Who would
oppose the CARE Act would be very quiet about it. I think there are people who
certainly wouldn't want it passed. Certainly, no American thinks any politician
is exempt from any form of hideous conduct but I can't see them committing
political suicide and standing up on the floor of Congress and saying,
"Yeah, I believe people who fuck their own babies should be
appealed," and that's, in effect, what they'd be saying.
Todd: What are the
largest hurdles for the CARE Act right now? What are the stipulations that
people are bugged about?
Vachss: None. Let me
be fair. There are, "child advocates" who take the position that
since, theoretically, if the federal legislation was passed and State X didn't
adopt a version, it could lose a percentage of its Child Abuse, Prevention, and
Treatment Act funding since that funding is going for [in facetious voice]
"the children and I don't want do anything that could possibly negatively
impact the children." Bleah. And there area few prosecutors who treat
their discretion as some sort of sacred thing and anything that interferes with
their discretion, they're opposed to. They don't care what it could be. It
could be three strikes, it could be anything. There will always be prosecutors
opposed because they want to be the ones who make that decision. But if you
leave that aside, the problem with the CARE Act is its lack of constituency.
Todd: Meaning lack of
people trying to push it through?
Vachss: No, no. Let me
ask you a question.
Vachss: Why is the NRA
Vachss: Nope. Don't
Todd: Lots of members?
Vachss: Don't agree.
Todd: One focus?
Vachss: Yes and that
makes them a deliverable block of votes. Take the gun issue. The people on the
other side of the gun issue - they haven't got any focus. They don't want
people to own handguns but they also want whales protected, they don't want
people to smoke cigarettes. The list is a smorgasbord. Therefore, they're
unfeared by most politicians. There is no single issue constituency for
children in this country because any jackass - NAMBLA bills itself as a child
advocacy organization - so, it's a self-awarded title that means nothing. There
is no group that could say, "Mr. Senator, here's the deal. If you vote for
this act, we're going to have a million people supporting you, voting for you,
raising money for you, advocating for you, and if you don't, we don't care if
your opponent is Satan, those million votes will go to him." Which is the
NRA's position. The NRA is unconcerned about minutia like taxes, the
environment, war, poverty, famine, disease, you see?
Todd: Or specifically
who runs the country, as long as they support the NRA.
Vachss: They don't
care. That's exactly right. Beelzebub could be running.
Todd: And it would be,
"Nice halo of flies, guy."
Vachss: Sure. So, as a
result, they're taken deadly seriously. Whereas the people who are
"concerned about children," have never formed that focused
constituency because, you know what, they spend all of their time either
fighting over grants, among each other, fighting over territory, or demanding
that they be the spokesperson. In this country, there is not a child protective
Vachss: I dare you to
Todd: I was doing a
lot of searching for one, specifically, and I found little to no information...
changing gears, does this fit into the dynamics of abuse? Those who are abusing
want to cover their tracks. Those who are abused are scared or ashamed and
can't find the vent for the abuse, and those who aren't directly in the cycle
don't want to hear about it because it's really ugly stuff.
Vachss: Except for the
latter, I agree with you. I think there are plenty of people who have some
concern about this issue but they have never - just by nature of the political
temperament of that kind of person, they're not fanatics and it the squeaky
hinge that gets the oil. See, the NRA's bankrupt. It's not their lobby. It's not
their money. It's the deliverable block of votes and I don't know any group -
for kids, you see - that can promise that. The Mormons can promise that in
Utah. Hell, there's places in this country where the Klan can promise it, but I
don't know any place where children can promise it and if you look at any
organization involving kids, each of them is setting themselves up as the only
game in town. There has never been a coalition. No one's ever willing to say,
"I'll drop my personal issues on this long enough to get yours passed and
then you can help me with mine."
Todd: Has Oprah tried,
since she was successful with the National Child Protection Act, to step into
Vachss: It's not a
question of stepping into the arena. It was much more Oprah's money than it was
anything else that was done. The only time she spoke of this is when I was on
television with her. And that was several times, sure, but it was really me
talking about her saying, "Yeah." I'm not saying she wasn't
supportive, but you if have looked at Oprah's shows the last year or so or two
years, or three years even, they are not exactly what you'd call
issue-oriented. And her constituency... if there was legislation about
makeovers, I think maybe... She can get, certainly, I don't know, people to
write letters, but she's not going to get anybody, that I can see, to be
obsessed about the passage of a particular piece of legislation. It's not a
referendum system. If it was a referendum system that we had nationally, I
believe we could get it passed. I absolutely do.
Todd: Is there any way
a grassroots effort can bring this up on a referendum?
Vachss: Not federally,
no. There's no legislative process where there can be a national referendum.
You're talking about something as big as a plebiscite. My goodness, if you look
at the history of the ERA, a struggle that you think couldn't be lost...
Todd: Is still going
on, full throttle...
Vachss: Yeah. Also,
you've got to remember, for politicians, you have to offer them some inducement
other than "It's the right thing to do."
Todd: Correct. I
think, "It's the right thing to do and we can do it on your term. It can
be finished and your name can be on that bill."
Vachss: That's right.
The good part about it is the bill really appeals to those who want to see it
as an anti-crime measure. "Let's make child molesters do more time"
kind of thing. And those who see it as a child protective measure. And it has
no tax consequences, so you don't have that handicap. But the fact that
something's beneficial or valuable or even righteous has never been enough, in
and of itself, to move Congress.
Todd: I think the
family values platform is really, really nice to say but it's really vague at
the same time.
Vachss: Let me tell
you something. Family values is beyond vague. Remember, I've been doing this a
long time and I can't tell you how many times I've stood up in court and had
some defense attorney talk about the need to keep the family united even though
daddy's been raping his daughter.
Todd: Right. So
biological dysfunction is better than anything else.
Vachss: That's exactly
right. Abberational biology, the hell with behavior. I did one TV show - I
don't remember which - this is probably not the one that got me audited but
pretty close. No, it was later on in my career. It was when Reagan was in the
White House when I first got audited. Someone asked me about family values, and
I said "Who's the biggest spokesperson for family values?" And they
said, "Dan Quayle." And I said, "If I was Dan Quayle, I would be
for family values, too, because if it wasn't for his family, he'd be flipping
burgers." It's family values in the sense of how much money does your
family make that it values. Look, the law schools are full of people who are
there because of their family. We're probably in the third or fourth generation
of politicians now that are all connected. Udall's son is in Congress, you see.
How many generations of Kennedy? Yeah, family values, that's nice. Certainly,
John Gotti could have something to say about family values.
Todd: He runs a tight
Vachss: Also, the
right to define is the right to control. So, let's say you and I agree that
communism is bad, if we agree to that, all we have to do is say "This
guy's a communist," and we wouldn't have any more dispute.
Todd: And then we
could have a trial, and it'll be all right.
Vachss: Sure. But when
it comes to something like family values, it's way too nebulous - I mean, I
really consider it a family value that somebody who sexually assaults his own
child is drummed out of the human race. I don't mean killed but we don't
consider him one of us.
Todd: Why wouldn't you
want to kill molesters?
Vachss: I'm not in
favor of capital punishment for a number of reasons.
Todd: Is it just by
the mechanisms that it takes so long in the appeals process and it creates some
kind of celebrities?
Vachss: Or that.
You're very well read or else we think alike. All of that's true, plus, let's
face it, there's the ever-looming prospect of a fatal mistake. But it does,
absolutely, make celebrities out of the worst degenerates. It does cost more to
kill somebody than it does to incarcerate them for life. That whole argument
about "Why keep them locked up for life?" is bullshit. It's created
an entire industry that shouldn't exist.
Todd: By your own
experiences, do you know how child molesters get treated in prison by other
Vachss: Let me tell
you the truth instead of what you've heard. How you get treated in prison
depends on your size, your coldness, and your connections. I have been in
prisons where people with the most reprehensible crimes you can imagine,
everybody treats well. People with high-status crimes are hurt and abused and
even killed. Because in there, it's very much a jungle mentality and if you
bring power to the game, nobody's really concerned about the status of your
crime. Now, it's true that if you fit the standard predatory pedophile
definition and you're sort of a weak, ineffectual shrinking person, you're
going to prison and people are going to take advantage of that but it's not
because you're a child molester. That's an engrafted-on excuse.
Todd: You don't have a
dynamic personality, that type of thing.
Vachss: Well, you
could be good with your hands. That could be enough. Let me give you an
example. Do you know who Albert DeSalvo is?
Todd: No, I don't.
Vachss: He was
otherwise known as The Boston Strangler. How come he was never in protective
custody? I mean, this is the guy who raped, tortured, and killed, what, fifteen
grandmothers. You might check Albert DeSalvo's record and find out that he was
also the light heavyweight boxing champion of Europe when he was in army.
Albert was a bad guy. Albert could hurt you.
I've always wanted to know about that.
Vachss: People have
this idea that there's this cool prison subculture where the convicts shun...
Todd: That there's a
Vachss: Forty years
ago, sure, no question because forty years ago, the lowest thing you could be
was not a child molester, it was an informant. People go into prison now,
bragging about the other people they brought with them, for god's sakes. I
mean, the people who are in protective custody are there because of specific
hostility towards them, not because of their crime. And anyway, child molesters
can easily be isolated in prison because all they have to do is opt for one of
these treatment programs. There's separate housing, separate wing. If you look
at the history of people killed in prison, look at prison stabbings, take a
state, and you will see that it's Aryan Brotherhood against black Muslims, the
Nazi Lowriders against the skinheads. It'll be about territory, it will be
about a debt, it'll be about a sexual assault, but about a crime? No.
Todd: You've said that
true anger and hatred can be effective tools against abuse. Does this go
against the current trend towards forgiveness or do you think that forgiveness
by itself is faulty?
Vachss: I think
forgiveness by itself - let's face it - any doctrine which teaches forgiveness
is probably written by perpetrators.
Todd: Well, yeah, I
was thinking of the Bible.
Vachss: Let's just be
honest about it - with forgiveness - that it is an individual choice and that
the right belongs to the wronged, not society, but to the person actually
wronged. Telling people that you can not heal unless you forgive is a
pernicious, destructive lie because so many people say, "I can't forgive
what they did to me so I'm doomed. I'll never heal." As if you had the
obligation not only to be abused but to forgive the abuser. There's nothing
about that dynamic that's psychologically correct. Nothing. In a way, it's
supporting - I'm the therapist and I'm telling you - "Yeah, look Todd, I
did these horrible things to you but you have to forgive them." So who am
I advocating for there? Who's side am I on?
advocating for the person who abused.
Vachss: That's exactly
right. That may have some religious validity, although I consider that an
oxymoron, but I don't see where it has any therapeutic validity. And I'm not
saying that everybody has to go kill their abuser or even everybody has to sue
their abuser or even everyone has to simply stop any contact with their abuser,
but the idea that they have to some how forgive the person that hurt them, for
them to heal, it's just a lie, it's just not true. The healthiest people I know
are people who say, "I hate them for what they did and I'm going to get
even. The way I'm going to get even is I'm going to protect other
Vachss: That has been
the single-most healing thing. You would not believe the volume of mail I get
from people who read the books, who kind of identify with Burke's unrelenting
hatred. And the result is, "Does this mean that I'm not crazy, because
that's the way I feel."
Todd: Shifting just a
little bit again, do you think child abuse and incest haven't reached the main
focus in the American conscious due to its impossibility of being televised on
national TV? I'm thinking along the lines of the women who got mobbed in
Central Park, where there are fourteen videos capturing that...
Vachss: There are
plenty of videos of children being abused.
Todd: Has it been
Vachss: Of course not.
Those are videos for commercial sale. They're deliberately made for product.
There's no question about that. I think the reason is, first of all, child
abuse is an amorphous term, second of all, people operate off of religious
belief as opposed to fact, so people say, "I believe there's an epidemic
of false allegation." And other people will say, "I believe that no
child ever lied about sexual abuse." Those are belief systems. They're not
facts. I don't believe this country will ever come to grips with child abuse
until they make the obvious, simple connection between today's victim and
tomorrow's predator. As long as they believe a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gacy
is a biogenetic mistake as opposed to a beast that was built and a monster that
was made, they'll continue to blithely walk around, saying, "I'm against
child abuse," whatever that means. Then there's also the people, who, for
example, spanking freaks. "Oh, it's all right to spank children."
"Oh, it's the correct thing." "Oh, it's biblically...," you
know. Of course, I see these same people posting to boards that are all about
spanking but they're spanking between adults and purely for erotic purposes.
[facetiously] But, ahh, there's no connection, I'm sure. Never mind that
pictures of children being "disciplined" are the hot topic. They're
sold and traded all the time. That's not because people are connoisseurs of,
you know, correcting children. I don't think America's going to do anything
except of that of perceived self-interest. I think it is America's
self-interest to really ruthlessly and relentlessly battle child abuse because
the ones that are not protected, the ones that are not safe, some percentage of
them will turn on us. Most of them will not. Most of them will turn on
themselves. But if you don't think the societal cost in mental health services
and drug addiction services and alcoholism services is not killing us... and
where does that come from?
Todd: It comes from
the very beginning, from the seed of it.
Vachss: Of course. The
cost of early intervention in child abuse is like a dollar compared to a
hundred thousand dollars for intervention in even juvenile violence, never mind
Todd: I was trying to
parallel this in my mind the other day. I thought it a little weird that
there's a long-time, incredibly expensive, dubious war on drugs and there's not
even a battalion devoted to child's rights.
Vachss: Amen. The war
on drugs, Nancy Reagan has poisoned and ruined this country. Not only is the
war absolutely futile - or if it's a war, we're all POWs, but it's poisoned
pain management in this country to where people are dying in extraordinary pain
because doctors don't want them to be drug addicts.
Todd: There's a stigma
attached to it.
Vachss: To the doctor,
not to the poor person who's in freakin' pain, but those decisions - doctors
are more afraid of the DEA than they are the IRS. There has never been a war on
drugs. It's silly. You've got to understand, it's just a question of privilege
because there was also a war on booze, remember? The money from Prohibition
financed organized crime right to this day. And if you don't think that the war
on drugs isn't financing organized crime, you're absolutely crazy. If we had
the money that we spent on this utterly futility... I don't care if people want
to be dope fiends. I care what they do to get their drugs.
Todd: And how they
treat other people.
Vachss: If you want to
go in your house and shoot up, good for you. I don't give a damn. I really
don't. But the cost of drug enforcement and the damage done by addicts and the
cost of treating addicts, it's going to bankrupt this country. If we didn't
have this bullshit, we could probably fund every single social program in the
world times ten. We could feed Ethiopia. But, in this country, there's kids -
we don't want kids to be dope fiends, that's very nice - as if there's really pushers
hanging around school yards trying to get kids. What a canard. What nonsense.
Todd: I grew up in a
very small town and I got into trouble quite a bit. It was a very weird
dynamic. The powers that be say, "Don't do anything destructive." And
it was little things like skateboarding, but they wouldn't make a skate park.
They wouldn't give you something to do, only say "Don't do it and just
stand on the corner of the street and stare at something." They didn't
provide any activity or anything that was really a viable alternative to a
Vachss: They could do
it. The money is certainly there. The money has been squandered on absolute,
utter nonsense. It would be fine with me if we had an actual war on drugs. If
you want to have a war, I've been in a war and I know what a war is. This isn't
Todd: It kind of
reminds me of the tactics of the Vietnam war. It's a completely shifting
battleground. Battles are fought over non-sequential hills that are overtaken
as soon as the forces are pulled out, and you still haven't engaged your enemy
Vachss: The enemy was
undefeatable because the territory couldn't be occupied. If United States had
"won" that war, what would we be doing? Would we have 175,000 troops
in Vietnam now?
Todd: No. I think we'd
have cheaper motor scooters, that's about it.
Vachss: The whole
trade balance is utter hypocrisy. You can't expect a country to protect its own
children when they get on their knees and say, "Oh God, we must have trade
with China, ehh, don't worry about the human rights thing."
Todd: I was curious
about the current condition of The Domino Theory. Have they said, "This
isn't good any more"?
Vachss: I think they
must have said that because ask the Russians about Afghanistan. The whole idea
was to crank up a war machine. It was to do anything about stopping the spread
of godless communism in southeast Asia. You ask yourself why they didn't attack
Cuba, if that was their rationale. If the rationale was that this is a fascist
government that's controlling the people and, you know, no freedom in this, no
freedom in that, why don't they just... Cuba's just sitting over there. And
it's another example of American hypocrisy, which is why people don't respect
it. I have friends who are Mexican. They say to me, "What the fuck is
this? If I'm a Cubano and I make it to the shore, everybody wants to give me a
kiss and a job. But when I try to go across the goddamn Rio Grande, they want
to shoot me. The rationale is that the Cubans are fleeing oppression. Have you
been in Chiapas lately? Mexico's a booming, wonderful democracy because they
Todd: Mexico's been
controlled by the same party since 1929.
Vachss: And by force.
Todd: If somebody else
wins, they just kill them.
Vachss: They've done
it and they've killed them in the street. So, when people flee that, and I
would flee that, I wouldn't want to be there. Nah, they get turned back. But if
they're Cuban, OK. That's one reason why when people talk about the Hispanic
vote in this country, they're idiots. They don't realize that the Mexicans and
Cubans are not exactly pals because of the disparity in their treatment by this
government. It comes down to what? Deliverable block of votes. The same way
Puerto Ricans have been a viable force of New York politics since, my god, the
Todd: I think there
were more Puerto Ricans in New York than Puerto Rico at one time.
Vachss: Certainly than
in San Juan, no question. That's because a politician, Envito Mark Antonio,
long, long time ago got through legislation that Puerto Ricans could vote as
Americans. I mean, it's not a state. Any time there's political power,
children, by definition, never are going to have political power. What they're
going to have is "spokespersons." There is no other group on the face
of this earth - I don't care if they're mass murderers - that don't have one of
their own as spokespersons.
Todd: Concerning child
protection laws, how would you rate America in the grand scheme of the world?
Vachss: We're at the
high end as to the law. Let me distinguish between law and law enforcement.
We're not where the Scandinavian countries are, for example, which prohibit
so-called corporal punishment.
Todd: But we're no
where near Thailand.
coming up strong. Australia's going to pass laws that are appropriate but I
would definitely say America's at the high end in terms of a legislative scheme
when it comes to kids. However, our legislative scheme does permit you to kill
kids, right? You can be under twenty-one and be executed in the United States.
And you can be thirteen and tried as an adult in the United States.
Todd: I think it's
getting lower and lower, too.
Vachss: No, no. Every
state has a different law but they all have one provision or another by which
they can make a child into an adult. In New York, for example, at sixteen you
are an adult. There's no judicial process involved. You shoot a guy on your
sixteenth birthday, you're an adult. But on your fifteenth birthday, they would
have to get permission to treat you as an adult. And they would have no trouble
doing that because we have this theory that a thirteen-year-old, obviously
couldn't sign a contract, couldn't drive a car, couldn't vote, couldn't drink,
but, by virtue of the maturing experience of having killed other human beings,
they are old enough for criminal justice purposes.
Todd: Maybe we should
just fire guns at people, to get them smarter and instantaneously growing up.
Vachss: I can tell you
that having guns fired at you makes you smart for a very brief period of time.
It does make you smart for the moment.
Todd: It makes your
legs smart, too.
Vachss: The people who
are not smart don't have a continued experience of being shot at. Did you know
that the United States has not signed a U.N. convention on the rights of the
Vachss: Because it
prohibits the death penalty. [facetiously] We're not going to do that because
the death penalty has been proved to be such a potent weapon against crime. We
kill more than everybody else but we seem to have more murders than everybody
Todd: And I don't
think it's because of drugs.
Vachss: No. It's not
because of drugs. It really has a reason. I mean, look, there are a lot of
murders that are just, you know, stupid murders, but the sociopathic murders
that scare us the most, those people are not born bad. They're just not.
There's no isolateable, chromosome or gene or combination that produces
Todd: Do you think
that some people are born evil?
Vachss: No, but
certainly there are people whose triggers are set differently. On the other
hand, lots of those people never grow up to be vicious criminals. There are
checks and balances. We're all different in that respect, but born evil -
evil's a choice. To be evil, you have to volitionally chose conduct.
Todd: Right, or be
exposed to that conduct and not know the difference.
Vachss: Nope, you
still have to imitate it before you could be called evil. You could be exposed
to it endlessly but doesn't mean that you copy it.
Todd: That's true. I was
thinking about that the other day, too. About if you had a serial killer and he
had a twin brother or she had a twin sister, what was the difference between
the two? One's successful, or definitely not out killing other people, what is
that trigger, what is that margin?
Vachss: Remember, too,
that some of these twin studies are badly flawed because they say, "Look,
there were two twins and they both turned out to be bad, which says something
about genetics." And then you say, "Geez, were they separated at
birth or were they raised in the same home? If they were raised in the same
household, what are you saying?" I, personally, have had families in my
caseload that literally, third and forth generation, every goddamn one of them,
was a rapist, a murder, a thief, an arsonist, everything you could think of,
not because their strain of genes was bad but because their intra-familiar
Vachss: You have a
choice. Look at any juvenile prison. You see a kid come in there. He looks
around. He figures it out almost immediately. There's predators and there's
prey. The way you can tell the prey is they're forced into sex acts, for
example. So if I force somebody into a sex act, therefore, I put myself on a
different side of the fence. It's a lot of adaptive, survival-driven behavior
that's pretty damn ugly.
Todd: What can you
tell me that can make our readers angry? You've said, "Informed, inactive
people are just as useless as ignorant people."
Vachss: That's right.
Todd: Can you give me
some information that could, possibly, drive people into action.
Vachss: Yeah. The
information is, you've been hosed. You don't know that there is a law that
permits special, more lenient treatment of people who rape their own kids.
Todd: So if you can
raise them, you can raze them.
Vachss: The ownership
of kids to that extent - people don't know this - in people's minds, incest is
much older. When people think of incest, they think of a seventeen-year-old
girl and her stepfather. They haven't been told the truth, and more
importantly, you know I think it would make people really angry if they
understood, that government priorities as such, that monsters continued to be
made, beasts continued to be built, and all government will offer them is a
eulogy at their funeral when the grown victim turns predator. Because all this
three strikes stuff, all this "let's lock them up and throw away the
key," I mean, that's just so much after the fact.
Todd: That's when the
curtain's falling instead of the first act.
Vachss: Sure. What you
said before is true. A politician will not support something that won't bear
fruit within his term of office and when you're talking about intervening in
child abuse, so as to protect one generation removed, no politician wants to
Todd: No self interest
Vachss: No, because he
can't. With the exception of a Strom Thurman, who's going to be around to say,
"I can take credit for it."?
Todd: Just for my own
curiosity, do you know any famous people that have been convicted as pedophiles
or have been up for incest charges?
Vachss: Are you
Vachss: OK. Roman
Polanski. He's sitting in France. An exiled hero to the Hollywood community,
but in fact, he was convicted of sex with a twelve-year-old girl and decided to
not hang around and go to jail. So there's this great campaign to get poor
Roman back into this country. There's been all kinds of people convicted of
having sex with their own child but I don't know about famous people. What I would
say is there aren't a whole lot of rich and famous people in jail for anything.
Todd: You could
probably crash a plane into my house and they'd probably arrest me for
providing a bumpy landing.
Vachss: I think that
people acknowledge that there's truth to the fact the criminal justice system's
not exactly your basic, level playing field.
Todd: I got the
impression, doing research on you ? why are people trying to kill you? Or why
is there such a secrecy around you?
Vachss: I don't know
that either of those things are true. Certainly, I've had my share of stupid
threats over the years and in the course of my work as an investigator and
other things, yeah, you're in violent places, violent things happen. I had a
law office in New York City for many years and a day didn't go by without some
degenerate simply using the phone lines or using the fax machines for his or
her own entertainment. When I practiced law full time, that was just something
I had to bear. I don't now because I've switched to sort of a different type of
work. I still do court room work but they're selective shots not open to
business to everybody. My home address has never been public and never would
be. I don't know why anybody would make their home address public, to be honest
Todd: No way. ON a
much smaller scale, I help operate a small magazine. I want to keep the two -
home and work - separate. I want to go home and not have to answer the phone.
Vachss: That's right.
I don't think that's unique. I take precautions because I teach people to take
themselves seriously and I intend to take myself seriously. In other words, I'm
proud that I'm on the enemies list of the International Pedophile Liberation
Front but I don't dismiss people who send me pictures of myself with my face covered
by a cross hair or people who send funeral cards or even people who call up and
say, "You're dead." Are they far more likely than not freakish little
windbags? Yes. Sure. I pity the fool who would find my house and break into it,
unless somebody has a real affection for pitbulls.
Todd: I get the
feeling, and I really appreciate this, is that you're not solely there for
child's rights because child's rights is a good thing and a wholesome thing to
do, but you're going after the predators themselves.
Vachss: I've never
pretended that I've got any great, special, unique love for children. That's
not me. I hate the people who prey on them, but I'm doing it as a pragmatic
warrior. I think the greatest threat to this country's long-term existence is
not communism and it's not cocaine. It is that no society can survive if we let
too much of it prey on its own young. We just won't survive. The quality of our
lives, everything that we hate about our lives is somehow connected to
sociopathy and sociopathy is nothing more than ambulatory humans with no sense
of empathy. They feel only about their own feelings. They care only about their
own pain. And I'm not saying they're all serial killers. Some are selling used
cars, some are on Capitol Hill but they're all pernicious to us because they're
not of us and the only way you get that is when the socialization process is
skewed. When a baby's born, it has no empathy. It just has its own needs.
Todd: It's just
Vachss: Sure. What
else could an infant do? But they learn empathy through socialization. If they
get sodomy instead of socialization, some percentage of them are going to get
very, very dangerous. And it's not a question of a moral obligation, although
it is one, it's pragmatism. We just can't keep building this thing to critical
Todd: That's very
interesting. In my line of work, I deal with a lot of racism: counter and pro
and I'm always looking for something that's more elemental than skin color or
Vachss: I know more
about that than almost anybody because when I hear the term African American,
my hair on the back of my neck stands up because I was in the middle, as you
probably know, of a genocidal tribal war in Africa.
Todd: In Biafra,
Vachss: Black people,
African people, people - you can't even call it a country because it's a war
zone not a country - trying to exterminate one another. And if you think that's
unique, check Rwanda.
Todd: The Tutsis
versus the Hutus.
happening is that racism isn't the problem, it's tribalism that's the problem.
Todd: My brother was
in Bosnia and he said that the Croats and the Serbs hate one another. They live
across a river and have hated one another forever...
Vachss: ...And try to
wipe each other out. And the Serbs and Croats are, ethnically, highly
different. I mean, they're both Caucasian. The reality to racism is that even
if each race lives separately, we have proven that that won't bring peace and
Todd: Definitely not.
It'll just give them time to sharpen their weapons.
Vachss: What happens
with racism is that it's become a great source for profiteers because you can
explain to any inbred moron that the reason his life is so terrible is because
of somebody else, and he'll buy it because he's not very smart but he'll not
only buy it, but he'll act on it. If you look - and, actually, that's what my
new book is about - the fusion between the extreme left and the extreme right
on these issues because if you look really closely at the current Nazi dynamic,
you'll notice something really different about their recruiting. You've got
young people, say skinheads, right, who are Greek, are Italian.
Todd: I've known
Vachss: Well, that's a
psychiatric disturbance. There have always been Jews in the Nazi party and
they're just sick humans. But there are people of an ethnicity that's not
Aryan, so what they've done to increase recruitment - because they were never
about racism, they were about power - is that they say, "Oh, you guys are
welcome. You guys are perfectly qualified to be Aryan." Well, Hitler would
be spinning in his grave - "Greeks? Are you kidding me? Fucking gypsies?
Italians? Mediterraneans? Spaniards?" Look at the Nazi Lowriders. They're
Latino. They don't really have any sense of all of this, but it's always been a
fact. When I was a kid, when the cops would bust teenagers, the real
dark-skinned Puerto Rican kids would only speak Spanish because they didn't
want to be mistaken for black, see? Racism's horseshit in this country anyway.
For example, if you have a black girlfriend, you're somewhat suspect, but if
you have an Asian girlfriend, she's exotic. Racism really isn't an issue
because the profiteers at the top of the pyramid are not racist any more than
the people at the top of a drug cartel are dope fiends or any more than the
people who are running huge kiddie porn rings are pedophiles. They're
Todd: They're just
dealing in a different material than Microsoft is.
Todd: Is that what
your book, Dead and Gone, is about?
Vachss: Dead and Gone,
the truth is if you look at the one area where the extreme left and the extreme
right don't have any dispute with each other is about how children can be used.
I mean, Allen Ginsburg, you know who he is, is a member of NAMBLA. Well, I mean
he's also a Jew and probably you'd think that the extreme rightists would hate
him, and yet when it comes to using children for their own fun, there is no
dispute. It's like a Moebius Strip. They're not really separate. I'll give you
another example. There's one thing that absolutely unites the extreme left and
the extreme right - and although they don't speak to each other, they're united
about one thing: fear of registration.
Todd: Can you explain
Vachss: Sure. If you
look at any of the gun people, what they're always talking about is they don't
want to be registered because the government's keeping lists.
Todd: A database.
Vachss: Right. And
they're going to move on them some day. Well, it's the exact same thing with
the anarchists who are allegedly the extreme left. See? Actually, it's not a
line, it really is a spinning continuum and there's points where they
intersect. If you scratch a severe enough liberal, you'll always see a fascist.
This is very important because you don't combat ideology, you don't combat skin
color, you combat conduct and we tend not to look at conduct. We tend to look
at trappings: color, things like that.
Todd: Boxes to put
Vachss: Sure, because
that makes it simple and that makes it convenient. So when it's put against
child abuse, when you ask them to define it, you're going to get different
definitions from different people.
Todd: That's helpful.
Vachss: Take a dozen
people, and ask "Define child abuse." And they won't be able to do it
and fair enough. That's the fault of our lawmakers who have not been really
clear. Child abuse cases, which might be tried in family court, can be any kind
of horrible - I've been in homicide cases that were prosecuted as child abuse
but there's other people who have been accused for child abuse for slapping
Todd: Has there ever
been child abuse cases for just mental abuse?
Vachss: Oh yeah, and I
would never precede mental abuse with the word "just," because it's
probably the most damaging of all.
Todd: Right, because
scars can heal.
Vachss: That's right
and the other thing is that it doesn't change you as much. The most common - in
the people who have studied serial killers - what they're shocked about is
what's so prevalent isn't sexual abuse, not even physical abuse, but emotional
abuse. Unless the child - and there's a critical period in which this can
happen - bonds he becomes that hypothetical lone wolf, that sociopath. You
can't bond when what you're told, "I, the adult, won't bond with you. I
won't accept you. You're a worthless piece of crap. I'm sorry I ever gave birth
to you. You're fat, you're dumb, you're ugly, you're stupid. You're not mine.
I'm ashamed of you." On and on and on. Those detachment disorders have
caused more dangerous people than physical abuse or sexual abuse. When I wrote
about emotional abuse for Parade, I got 6,500 plus letters. We were staggered.
This one absolutely hit a nerve, so many people saying, "Thank you, Jesus,
for finally recognizing that my pain's just as much as somebody who's suffered
from being beaten or being raped.
Todd: A word lashing
is even worse that a belt lashing.
Vachss: It's worse
when it's systematic. Any kind of kind of outburst in the world can be cured.
Todd: Can you give me
some contact information so people can find out more about the stuff we've been
talking about today?
Vachss: The best one: www.vachss.com. That one,
if you ever click on "resources" there, you can spend several hours.
It's not like, "Here's some hot links" crap. It's really thorough.
It's brilliantly indexed. I had a lot of people work on it. That's the best
one-stop shop. If they just want the CARE Act, it's careact.org.
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