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Taking a Stand for Children

by Joseph Szadkowski
Originally published in The Washington Times, December 16, 1995

The decision to publish materials, to communicate to a broad audience, carries with it a certain responsibility. An author can write about an injustice, but if a publisher doesn't print it, the corporation ignores it, the politician doesn't make it an issue—well, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, will it turn into a book?

DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics are making sure that Andrew Vachss' tree is being turned into a book as it comes crashing into our collective consciousness. Mr. Vachss, a proponent of children's rights both domestically and abroad, has written two books, "Another Chance to Get It Right" (Dark Horse) and "Batman: The Ultimate Evil" (Warner Books/DC Comics).

In "Another Chance" Mr. Vachss uses his ability to spin a tale to bring out the very scary realities of too many children's lives in the United States. The moral of his fables? That our children and their childhoods are precious and that it is our obligation to ensure that every child has the basic comforts—food, clothing, shelter, but also the emotional shelter, sustenance and comfort that only we, as adults, can provide.

In "Batman: The Ultimate Evil," Mr. Vachss uses the mega-popular DC Comics' vigilante to expose a very real horror being allowed by governments—the prostitution and sex slavery of children.

As investigative reporter David Hechler notes in an appendix to the novel, child-sex tourism is by no means a new evil. The United States has severe punishments for pedophiles, prompting them to take trips to countries where children are easily prostituted because child-sex-abuse laws are lenient, unenforced or easily circumvented, he says.

In addition to the physical and psychological damage children suffer at the hands of pedophiles, child-sex tourism also greatly increases the likelihood that the children will be infected with HIV. Sex-tour operators claim that the children have regular checkups and that you cannot catch AIDS from a child. Neither statement is true, Mr. Hechler notes.

He reports that Thailand is confronting this issue to some extent. In June 1994 the prime minister, Chuan Leekpai, announced to an international conference on the child-sex trade: "This problem has not arisen just in the last year or two. It started long ago, but in the past it was not taken as a serious matter.

"The world didn't pay much attention to it; there was no organization working on this problem; there was no governmental policy, either written or spoken, regarding this problem; and there was no international traffic of prostitutes from one country to another. However, all these things have now occurred, and Thailand must face the problem," Mr. Hechler reports.

The organization End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT) is a large part of the reason the Thai government has been forced to recognize the horrors of child prostitution in Thailand, but still the government does not take enough steps to end this global crime. Unthinkably, the travel industry and the Thai government have promoted sex tourism, Mr. Hechler says.

The Thai Tourism Authority designated 1987 "Visit Thailand Year" with the slogan "The One Fruit of Thailand more delicious than durian [a native fruit]—its young women." In England, a travel brochure referred to Thais as "Peter Pans—eternal children who have never grown up" and "the most sensual and overly sexual [people] on earth," Mr. Hechler reports.

The number of children who are victims of prostitution in Thailand and the rest of Asia is unknown. Child prostitution and sex tourism bring big money into these countries, and until these countries are held financially accountable for their crimes, little can be expected to change, Mr. Hechler says.

Dark Horse Comics has declared that it will cease all business dealings with Thai manufacturers. As manufacturers there are often used to create the models, statues and other licensee products for the United States, particularly for the comic and collectible industries, Dark Horse's declaration—if it were to be followed in kind by other publishers—could have a snowball effect on the Thai government.

Financial pressure is the only pressure that will effect a change. When U.S. businesses cease to funnel American dollars into countries whose governments exploit their children, those governments will need to address and solve the problem.

It seems that for an industry whose largest consumer group is children, all comic and collectible publishers and manufacturers must follow Dark Horse's boycott. Additionally, they must seek to publish books such as Mr. Vachss' "Another Chance to Get It Right" and "Batman: The Ultimate Evil" so that we are forced to recognize the horror of child abuse.

How can they do anything else?

© 1995 The Washington Times. All rights reserved.


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