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Wage War With Votes to Change Laws on Child Abuse and Incest

Leslie Boyd, Gannett Suburban Newspapers
Gannet News Service
April 29, 1998, Wednesday, Final Edition

Andrew Vachss has a challenge for all who consider themselves good, empathetic, loving people:

"Go to war!"

The war is against people who prey on children.

Vachss is a New York attorney whose clients all are children. He is a former caseworker, labor organizer, director of a prison for youthful offenders and a novelist whose books focus on issues of child abuse. To call him hard-nosed would be an understatement. But then, he's fighting a war. And he is obsessive about it.

Unfortunately, says Vachss, most people who are loving, good and empathetic have trouble focusing on a single issue.

"You know why the NRA is successful? It's because they can deliver a reliable block of votes. The NRA is obsessive. There's their issue and nothing else. They don't care if a candidate is Satan as long as he votes with them."

Vachss believes people need to focus on a single issue—a single aspect of an issue, actually, to get things accomplished.

"You deliver a block of voters and you'll get your legislation," he says. "But we all have to be willing to vote the way the NRA does—on a single issue and nothing else. You have to be willing to vote for a cigar-smoking, fanny-pinching, racist pig if he's willing to vote the right way on your issue."

The issue here is state laws that treat sexual predators less severely if the person they molest is their own relative.

In New York state, someone who has sex with a child younger than 11 faces up to 25 years in prison. If that child is related by blood or marriage, however, the molester could get off with probation and therapy. In some states, the maximum penalty for molesting a non-relative is life in prison, but the penalty for molesting a relative is as light as therapy and probation.

"In other words, you're a lot better off if you grow your own victim," says Vachss.

No politician will say he or she is in favor of this "incest exception," but no one is scrambling to change the laws, says Vachss.

The problem is, no one is able to deliver a block of votes—or hold them back.

"I'm so sick of talk shows," says Vachss. "I'm so sick of horror stories. I'm so sick of all these quasi-intellectuals doing analysis about the mood of Congress. We've all been Oprah-ized into believing our own opinions matter to anyone else. It's votes. That's the only way to change anything."

The laws can be changed state-by-state, says Vachss, or by a federal bill that would withhold funding from any state that refuses to change its law.

"If enough people stood up and became obsessed about this one issue, Congress would roll over like so many trick dogs," he says. "People can do nothing unless they choose to do it together."

Unless there's a willingness to become obsessed with the issue, Vachss says, nothing will change.

"You can be a wonderful, loving person, but your love is a pat of butter on a 20-foot piece of bread, and who's gonna taste it?" Vachss says. "This is a challenge to all people who call themselves good and empathetic and loving. Go to war!"

Vachss is head of a small army of volunteers working to change the laws on incest. To learn more, visit his web site at

Leslie Boyd is the family life writer for Gannett Suburban Newspapers.


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