Regarding Children

By  Audrey Ward   February 2022

Childhood has lost a true hero and protector. Andrew Vachss’s obituary in
the New York Times tells of a fearless legal defender for children who have
been trampled and betrayed.

When he wasn’t in a court room where children were at risk of losing to
those who hurt them, Vachss (pronounced “Vox”) was writing novels—my
favorite, Blue Belle–about Burke, an ex-con who was part shady, part
righteous (unlicensed) detective. Burke was perpetually on the lookout for
how little ones could be hidden from harm’s way. Then he did whatever was
necessary whether lawful or not.

One might suspect that Burke was Andrew’s alter-ego, able to sidestep the
rules to get the bad guys. Very satisfying, but not how it actually works.
There’s a lot of frustration in seeing children suffer with no way to mitigate
that pain.

When the child grows long legs and adds years, the pain may be sublimated
beneath layers of living, but let me assure you of this: that hurt does not go
away. Rather, early childhood injury assumes a disguise. Sometimes it is
experienced as emotional issues—depression, rage, excessive fear,
paranoia—or physical health problems.

The trauma one knew may also return by way of one’s own children. When
people tell me about the difficulties their offspring are undergoing, I find a
way to ask about the childhood that they, themselves, knew at the same age.

To their surprise, there is often a parallel.

You cannot outrun the harm that has been done to you. Ever. Finding
someone who’s licensed to listen is the first step toward healing those

And, of course, not just any therapist will do. It must be the one that is right
for you.

The crimes against children that Andrew Vachss crusaded against and wrote
about are very real. And you know, don’t you, that at least 90% of the
perpetrators are already known by the child. About a third of those are adults
or older young people in the child’s own family.

We act as if this can’t happen in beautiful communities like ours. But such
offenses are well hidden. The victims are sometimes pre-verbal. In fact
children are most at risk under the age of two and over the age of 12.
Of course, it becomes terribly complicated when the one who injures is a
family member. I was stunned when I first learned the statistic that 11
people know when a child is being hurt and say nothing.

And I know it’s hard to see–clearly–and even more difficult to say
something. Plays and movies such as “Doubt” and “Spotlight” demonstrate
the tough job of uncovering the subtle details that point to the truth.
Remember, the young ones being hurt feel complicit in what happens. So
they don’t tell. Even their senses betray them in making them feel that they
are at fault. Guilty.

I became radicalized by the death of a child at the hands of his caregivers.
His name was Jeremiah, and his single mother had a drug habit. Her supplier
had a penchant for torturing little boys.

In his obituary, Vachss is quoted from a CBS early morning show as saying,
regarding his crime novels about Burke the fearless investigator, “If I had a
wish, it would be that what I write about was fiction.”

Andrew Vachss witnessed the National Child Protection Act of 1993 being
signed, establishing a national registry of convicted child abusers that could
be checked by employers hiring those who apply for jobs dealing with
children. And yet, he was aware that this would help solve only one part of
this international problem.

Meanwhile, if you feel something is amiss in your own self, do find
someone with whom you can talk. Not just any one will do, of course.
Sometimes it takes a while to find a good fit. And it’s worth it.