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Andrew Vachss Uses Printed Page, World Wide Web To Lobby For Young Victims

By Steve Elliott
Originally published in The Fresno Bee, August 4, 1997

For the past 30 years, as a social worker, lawyer and author, Andrew Vachss has been running a race.

A race for the species. It pits those people who would pay any price to adopt a child against those who would toss their baby out with the trash.

"Either the people who want to save the children win, or the people who think children are property win." He said. "It's a race, my friend, I swear to God." Along the way, he's seen the enemy, the people who have committed the crimes of which Madera couple Ramio Romo Ruiz and Maria DeJesus Arragonez Reyas stand accused.

He's seen the casualties, the monsters that some become.

He's seen the hypocrisy, the Congress that votes to create a national registry of sex offenders but doesn't appropriate any money to fund it, the laws more likely to send a shoplifter to jail than a man who has raped his daughter.

And still he's optimistic. There has been progress.

"I've been at this 30 years, and when I started we couldn't have had this conversation," he said. "Newspapers wouldn't write about incest. My books wouldn't have been published. We've come 30,000 years in 30."

Vachss' books and nonfiction articles made the New York lawyer a national figure. His novels focus on Burke, a career criminal raised by the prison system, shaped by the beast of abuse.

In the courtroom, Vachss only represents children, defending them legally. In the pages of his novels, Burke protects children, but uses any means necessary to defend them. Or avenge them.

"Sometimes it's the same thing," Vachss said.

The next Burke novel is due out this the spring. Vachss has set up a site on the World Wide Web, a place for victims to turn and childrens advocates to learn.

"You should see the mail we get," he said, "everything from, 'I just saw a picture of myself on the Internet being sodomized as a 5-year-old,' to one from a fourth–generation victim and abuser."

"Some people are so full of hate and rage, the page seems to vibrate with their anger. And we get all kinds of people saying, 'I'm going to be a warrior too.'"

The site suggests ways for people to help children, but what Vachss really wants is a National Rifle Association for kids.

"What makes the NRA powerful? It's not the size of their membership, it's that they are focused on one single issue: They want their guns."

But the people working for children too often have several agendas.

"They want to save the whales and save the trees and somewhere in there save the children," he said. "If the intensity of the constituency existed for children the way it does for guns, we'd see changes very quickly."


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