Testimony of Andrew Vachss before the United States National Commission on Libraries and Information Science;
America is a country which holds free expression of opinion to be sacred. That does not mean all opinions are equal. Today, the Commission will hear many opinions on a controversial subject: How to protect children using public access Internet terminals in libraries from predatory pedophiles ... while simultaneously preserving our First Amendment freedoms and respecting the library community's traditional aversion to censorship. Because I hope for your attention, because I want you to value my opinion, I need to take a couple of minutes to explain my standing to speak to those issues.
My first exposure to what I have come to consider the greatest threat to humanity on this planet was as an investigator for the United States Public Health Service more than thirty years ago. At that time, the agency's goal was eradication of sexually transmitted disease, with syphilis as its major target. The technique was field epidemiology. Investigators were dispatched each time a positive test for syphilis was reported. It was our job to interview the infected individual and obtain all his or her sexual contacts within the critical period (which varied, depending on the stage of syphilis encountered). Then we had to find those contacts, arrange for them to be tested, and follow up on any new cases in the same manner. Syphilis is a "chain"–type infection. It was our job to break those chains.
As you might imagine, some people were quite forthcoming, while others were quite adamantly ... not. Some kept detailed address books. Others professed only the vaguest recollections. Often I would find myself spending several straight days and nights tracking a sexual contact, sometimes with nothing more than a nickname or a physical description and the address of a pick–up bar to guide me.
Investigators had no defined territory. I routinely visited juke joints, whore houses, migrant labor camps, county jails, crumbling shacks, and back alleys. I also spent time in country clubs, exclusive neighborhoods, and penthouses. And what I learned was that child sexual abuse has no socioeconomic boundaries.
So the public is given a choice of believing that "one out of every five children will be sexually abused by the time they reach eighteen," or that the whole thing is a "witch hunt," driven by a tidal wave of "false allegations." The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the much–less–newsworthy middle.
My own knowledge of the subject preceded the debates. It came from infants born with syphilis, from toddlers with prolapsed rectums ... and gonorrhea, from pre–teens already in an advanced stage of venereal disease. So while I do not subscribe to some of the hyperbolic "estimates" of the extent of child sexual abuse in America, I also know, beyond dispute, that some children are victimized. Every day.
My next job was field caseworker for the infamous New York City Department of Welfare. It's fashionable to talk about the dire effects of poverty upon children. It's quite another to see it. And it's a hideous sight.
But what I saw next was even uglier. I left the Department of Welfare to enter the war zone in a place once known as Biafra ... a fledgling country which literally vanished during a genocidal tribal conflict. Those who once called themselves Biafrans are now governed by the military regime in Nigeria. Those who survived, that is.
My assignment was to attempt to establish a "direct pay" system, so that the millions and millions of dollars donated by Americas whose hearts were torn at the daily television coverage of forcibly starved children ... for starvation was a major weapon of war in that conflict ... could be translated into food without the usual "administrative costs." Unbeknownst to any of us, by the time I left America, Biafra had virtually fallen. Although I was able to enter the land–locked zone by air, setting up anything resembling a system was impossible. No infrastructure remained—survival was the only goal.
After I returned to America and recovered, I worked a number of jobs. Briefly: I was a juvenile probation officer, ran a community outreach center for urban migrants, and a re–entry organization for ex'cons. Finally, I directed a maximum security prison for aggressive'violent youth. It was there I learned, with the kind of clarity only daily, intense contact can bring, the direct connection between child abuse and later criminal conduct.
And while there is no one–to–one correlation, while most abused children do not turn predator as adults ... although they do continue to abuse themselves in a variety of ways: drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide; and to be especially good candidates for being abused by others ... I have never met a gratification–driven criminal who was not abused as a child.
That's when I went to law school. And for the past 20–odd years, I have represented children. Abused children, neglected children. And, sometimes, very dangerous children. I have represented children against institutions, agencies, and individuals. And against their own parents. If there is anything that can be done to kids I haven't seen, I hope I never see it.
Although I experienced the gratification that only those whose work is truly meaningful can know, I was unable to make a living with only children as clients. So, for a time, I financially balanced my practice with conventional criminal defense work ... which paid quite well.
In 1985, my first novel was published. And, unlike the textbook which preceded it, the novel was a real success. So much so that, since then, I have been fortunate enough to be able to represent children exclusively, using the proceeds from publishing to make up the deficits.
The novels are Trojan horses; an organic extension of my law practice. My way of reaching a bigger jury than I could ever find in a courtroom. And I, like every other writer in America, rely on the library community to make my work available to many others ... to make it accessible.
As a child in Manhattan, the library was one of my favorite refuges, a truly magical place whose open doors opened many doors for me. As a teenager, I attended a high school on Long Island whose name will be recognized by every librarian: Island Trees High School. For those of you not familiar with the reference, the school board removed certain books it found "offensive" from the school libraries. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that: "The ... right to receive ... information and ideas ... is an inherent corollary of the rights of free speech and press that are explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution."1
Before I explain my position, let me tell you some of the things I have learned about predatory pedophiles. I am careful not to call such individuals simply "pedophiles," because "pedophilia" is a state of mind, not conduct. To "feel the feelings" may be "sick." But to act on those feelings ... that is evil.
Why do I call it "evil?" Because it is neither the product of ignorance nor a mental illness ... it is a choice.
Although defense attorneys love psycho–babble terms such as "pedophilia," pedophiles themselves loudly proclaim they are not "sick" and don't need treatment. Here's a typical statement:
This [article, entitled "Pedophiles need treatment, not publicity"] would at first seem to be an understanding article, but it is even more dangerous than raving pedo–killers:
"Man, we are not sick—no matter how badly this fact shatters your view of the world. No sickness, no treatment, no involuntary confinement to asylums."
Where did I find this proclamation? On the website of the International Pedophile Liberation Front2... within the section they call their "Enemies List." I am quite proud to be on that list.
Not only would I oppose any attempt to censor their right of free speech, I agree with them on both counts ... they are not "sick" and they don't require "treatment." And I certainly cannot quarrel with their listing me as an enemy.
In truth, there is no such disease as "pedophilia." Literally translated, it means "lover of children," which would be their own self-definition, not a diagnosis. But a pedophile's love of children is the same love you might feel for a hamburger. Something to be consumed. An object you make for yourself ... or buy from another. Chronic repetition of the same crime does not entitle one to call his conduct a mental illness. If I were to walk into court with a man accused of a string of liquor–store holdups, I doubt the jury would buy the argument that my client suffers from "armed robber–ia."
In truth, the essence of each child molester is that he or she4 is a sociopath ... an individual utterly devoid of empathy, driven by his own needs to the exclusion of law, ethics, or morals ... an individual indifferent to (and in some cases, excited by) the pain and trauma of his victims. The foundation to all treatment is a desire to change. And no psychiatrist will ever claim to have "cured" a sociopath.
Do not allow yourselves to be seduced by the tempting belief that "pedophilia" is just another "addiction." All addictions are marked by one significant characteristic—the specific efforts of some of those afflicted to rid themselves of such shackles. If you are a narcotics addict, an alcoholic, an over–eater, an anorexic, an obsessive–compulsive ... you can find self–help organizations keyed to your problem. Places where you can walk in and be among your fellows ... those who have suffered as you are and who want to help you overcome.
So why is it that all the "pedophile treatment" programs are occupied only by those who are court–ordered to attend? Why is it that there are no walk–ins, no individuals seeking treatment on their own? And why is it that the only time you hear a child molester express "remorse" is when he is facing a sentencing court or a parole board?
What is the significance of recidivism statistics? They point out clearly that predatory pedophiles are committed to their course of conduct. Unlike, say, armed robbers, they do not "burn out" with age. Unlike, say, drug addicts, they are not amenable to treatment. Indeed, do you know what the pedophile organizations call an individual who claims to have abandoned his commitment to sex with children? A traitor.
I come before you as a man with two professions, both of which hold reading and learning as vital to their existence.
But before we kneejerk ourselves into collaboration with pedophiles, let us deconstruct the slogans. Let us define "speech" operationally, not as an abstract. And when we apply that test, we know that child pornography is not "speech"—it is the photograph of a crime ... and the trophy of a predator. It cannot be produced without violating a child. It is per se contraband, and not within the orbit of First Amendment protection. If kiddie porn is "speech," then so is a snuff film.
All right then, what about the sanctity of words ... spoken or written? Again, definitions are key, as all words are not "speech" as defined by the Constitution. "Leave a hundred thousand dollars in a paper bag at the bus station or you'll never see your child alive again." Written words, sure ... but not "speech." The criminal law clearly recognizes some "speech" as conduct.
I spoke earlier about child pornography. There are certainly those who, while admitting it is a crime to produce or distribute child pornography, claim they have a free–speech right to display it. That argument is another red herring (pun intended); another example of the threat to brand you as a "Censor" opposed to free speech.
And where is this specious argument most fervently advanced? On the holy Internet, of course. After all, the purveyors claim, they are just displaying, not selling, the material. Doesn't that prove their motives are pure?
To answer such sophistry requires no mind–reading ability. Kiddie porn on the Internet serves the same two major purposes it serves in any other forum ... and one unique to the medium. First, kiddie porn tells the child molester viewing it that he or she is not a freak, not alone in his degeneracy. He has comrades, supporters, and, most importantly, others who are both a potential source and a potential recipient of the same material. Indeed, most child sex rings begin with the traditional exchange of trophies, proof that they have children under their control, ready for exchange or rent. Second, kiddie porn is used to desensitize potential victims. It is no secret that children are highly susceptible to peer influence, and child pornography is part of every predatory pedophile's engagement repertoire ... "See, it's okay ... plenty of other kids do it."
But the Internet has yet a third special use ... it has become the way to "test market" a product. A product which, if compared to other contraband such as narcotics, offers a great risk–vs–return advantage. Especially if you can grow the product in your own home.
The process has been described as follows:
"It begins with fantasy, moves to gratification through pornography, then voyeurism, and finally to contact." The Internet is a superhighway down the path of that perverse pattern, giving child sexual predators instant access to potential victims and anonymity until a face–to–face meeting can be arranged.6
But, unlike those who confuse cynicism with intellect, I believe we can increase radically our protection of children without trampling on the First Amendment ... if we make it an exercise in problem–solving, not the exchange of slogans.
To achieve this, we must stop using immaturity as a two–edged sword. We don't let children vote or sign contracts because they lack the maturity to make informed decisions in their own self'interest. Must we be told to "leave them alone" when it comes to judging whether an on–line stranger is really who he claims to be? It's easy enough to say that this is the parent's responsibility. Well, as a parent, I can control (at least to some extent) what my child sees on our home computer. But if the library, in effect, removes the restrictions I have put in place, must I then bar my child from the library to protect him?
Sure, the Internet itself is neutral. A piece of technology. A tool. It acquires significance not by what it is, but by how it is used.
So does a gun.
This is a classic example of how sloganeering—especially the kind driven by a belief–system rather than logic—can cloud even the most vital issues. Because, in truth, any NRA member who advocated that children be allowed to play with guns, unsupervised, would find himself alone, shunned by his fellow gun owners as either irresponsible or insane. Even those of us who hotly debate gun control have enough common sense remaining to join forces on that one critical point.
I would no more allow a young child unsupervised access to live "chat" on the Internet than I would allow him to play with my .357 magnum.
Does that make me a ... censor? I guess it depends on your definition. The actual ... as opposed to pedophile'serving ... definition is that it does not.
Does that mean if we restrict access to live Internet "chat" today, we will be restricting access to books tomorrow? Beware that sort of "logical extension" argument so beloved of manipulators. NAMBLA, the infamous "North American Man–Boy Love Association," for example, presents itself as a "gay" organization ... claiming their desire to have sex with male children places them on the extreme end of a homosexual continuum. Then they use the "First they came for the Jews" slogan to frighten gays into supporting them in the belief that, if they do not, they will be next. Here's NAMBLA's position ...
Our movement today stresses the liberation of young people. Freedom is indivisible. The liberation of children, boy–lovers, and homosexuals in general, can occur only as complementary facets of the same dream.7
Here is my question for you: Could an obviously underage child check out an "R" rated movie from your library?
If libraries are going to provide interactive opportunities—be it "chat," Instant Messages, e–mail communication or any other form—why is permission from a parent not required? Indeed, while I am opposed to "filters"—which I believe to be an impotent remedy—I see no constitutional right to "chat" provided by public funds.
As a research tool, the Net has much to offer. But "chat" is not research. And while it most certainly is a form of "speech," the enticement of children for the sexual gratification of an adult is not a protected form of speech.
Parents are told: monitor your home computer; make sure your child isn't vulnerable to predators; take responsibility. But it goes without saying that when my child is visiting the library without me, that same computer is now "open." Would requiring each underage user who wants to go on–line to show a permission slip from his or her parents be "censorship?" Would marking certain library computers as "adults only" be "censorship?"
Indeed, on what "free speech" grounds is interactive cyber–communication guaranteed by public funds? Anyone claiming that the failure of the public library system to offer free telephone service amounts to "censorship" would be dismissed as a loon. But the very word "Internet" has become a slogan all by itself, so zealously guarded by some that any restriction on its use is tarred with the "censorship" brush.
The power to name things is the power to control people. All of us here probably agree that censorship is wrong. But if we allow zealots or those with a covert agenda to define "censorship," it will not be free speech we are encouraging and protecting ... it will be child molesters.
Believe it or not, these remarks were not intended as a filibuster. I came here to be a resource, and I'm certain I would be more of a resource if I answered your questions instead of expounding, so ....
Need proof of what Andrew Vachss testified above? Read "Five Years for Man Who Lured Girl via Internet," from the October 25, 2000 issue of The Guardian.
In 2008, the American Psychological Association finally caught up with Andrew Vachss' 1998 testimony. Read "'Internet Predator' Stereotypes Debunked in New Study," a press release issued by the APA on February 18, 2008.
Back in November, 1998, Andrew Vachss testified before the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science [NCLIS] regarding public library-supplied access to the Internet. Now the NCLIS has officially issued its findings, including Policy Issues and Potential Solutions, which include a number of Andrew Vachss' recommendations. Read the Foreword to the Report by clicking here.
And if you want to download the entire document, click here.
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