“The Tragedy is in the Truth”

By Tony Casson

“Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.”
1 Timothy 2:1b NLT

“We believe no evil till the evil’s done.”
Jean de La Fontaine

Tonight in tens of thousands of homes across this country, children will go to bed afraid of the visit that will come when all is quiet. They will go to bed dreading the unholy violation of their innocence that will take place when they should be able to sleep peacefully, dreaming the dreams of children. But instead of dreaming, these children will be trembling quietly under the covers.

Do they lie there fearful that a stranger will enter this place that should be safe and do them harm? The heart-breaking truth is that the monster that most children fear is a person who is very well known to them.

The harsh reality should be very apparent to all of us by now as the numbers have been published often: 93-97% of all sexual abuse inflicted upon children in America is the direct result of a violation of trust by a family member, a relative or someone known to the family.

Instead of feeling safe knowing that a family member is nearby, many children lie in the dark, suffering unimaginable mental anguish wondering when the next assault will come.

I recently wrote about the book, “The Road of Lost Innocence” by Somaly Mam. Even in the extreme cases such as those in Cambodia that Somaly Mam describes with such brutally vivid honesty, the abuse that is inflicted upon children exists; is promoted; and occurs in the first place because of a violation of trust by parents, other relatives or people in positions of power and authority who should be able to be relied upon for protection. Instead, they are all either complicit or complacent.

Sadly, in the United States of America, our record is not much better:

• This is not a nation that has declared war against the sexual abuse of children; rather this is a nation that has declared war on misguided individuals who view the recorded images of that abuse, rather than using the incredible array of technology available to prevent those images from reaching our homes in the first place.

• This is not a nation that has set itself apart as a world leader in the protection of those least able to protect themselves; rather this is a nation that has allowed its politicians to regard misguided middle aged men and socially inept younger introverts in the same light as sexually violent predators that do, sadly, exist in our world. But they exist in far fewer numbers than America’s parents are led to believe. This creates an enormous workload for those charged with keeping watch over the most dangerous and encourages complacency and invites tragedy.

• This is not a nation that can be proud of the importance it places upon its future – the future being its children; instead, this is a nation which has allowed – indeed rewarded – our politicians who have actually pushed the safety and protection of children aside in favor of promoting sanctimoniously named legislation that does little more than create an American tragedy of a different kind.

     In a recent article, “The Child Protection Act That Doesn’t,” I referred to a bill sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas as a “misguided, misinformed and useless piece of pompous political puffery” and went on to classify it as “…political grandstanding at its lowest, which actually exploits the very children it claims to protect for purely political gain.”

Congressman Smith is only the most recent in a long line of politicians attaching their names to legislation promising to solve a problem when it is glaringly apparent by the very nature of their proposed solutions that they do not even know what the real problem is.

It is a regrettable fact of political life that our elected officials will seize upon any incident that can be used to cast themselves in a favorable light with the voting public, and issues concerning children are particular favorites of theirs.

Nothing grabs the public’s attention and inflames emotions to as intense a degree as a tragedy that has befallen a child at the hands of a stranger. Even though these extreme incidents are, in actuality, quite rare, the media attention they garner causes any decent person to become upset and angry and to look to elected officials for a solution.

Unfortunately, for that child and the child’s family, there is no solution. The tragedy is in this truth: No law ever passed has protected those children who have died horrific deaths at the hands of predatory strangers. Yet each new heartbreaking incident – even as rare as they may be – brings about a new round of laws and sex offender restrictions that do little more than provide a righteous platform upon which a politician can stand and say, “I am protecting America’s children.” Tell that to the parents and family of the child they just buried.

There will never be a law passed that can prevent pure evil from seeking victims to prey upon. Vigilance and common sense on the part of the parents is the best defense there is. Sadly, vigilant people will look away and another tragedy will occur, but these incidents, and the monsters who are responsible for them, should not be viewed as the primary danger to our children.

Child pornography is often singled out as the biggest crime against children. With the startling number of prosecutions for its possession and the flooding of our prisons with those found guilty of it, there is little wonder that it is perceived as such. However, the images – as sad and senseless as they are – are simply the record of the actual crime against whatever child may be pictured. This brings us back to the problem, which is – the sexual abuse of children, most of which takes place in the home.

If this sounds redundant, I apologize. Or maybe I don’t because people don’t seem to see that it is easier to point fingers at individuals making horribly immature and irresponsible decisions to look at pictures that should not be allowed to enter our homes in the first place than it is to try to tackle the real problem which lies in the very acts themselves that are recorded in the pictures.

This child pornography pandemic is destroying thousands of families in this country needlessly. Child pornography should not be allowed to proliferate to the degree that it does. The responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of the providers of Internet service and the lawmakers who would rather pass laws to incarcerate tens of thousands – potentially millions – of Americans for having the moral indecency to look at the pictures rather than pass laws requiring those providers to lock the door on child pornography.

When we stop hauling our fathers, sons, friends and neighbors off to prison for looking at pictures that should be blocked; when we stop wasting resources to seek, arrest, prosecute, imprison and monitor criminals that are created because of misplaced priorities; when the American public stops listening to the misdirection, the excuses and the outright lies and tells those who are paid to serve the public to actually sit down, roll up their sleeves and work toward productive solutions, then perhaps the country can begin to heal from this disease that festers and threatens to destroy us from within.

The course of action currently being taken by those in charge is as irresponsible as the behavior of those caught up in its web.

Somaly Mam is making a difference in the face of tremendous odds. She is saving lives while we, in this country, content ourselves with destroying more of them. She faces the tragedy that is in the truth every day while lawmakers in this country cannot even say they know what the truth is.

Politicians, prosecutors and judges all run scared, flailing at whatever presents the easiest target. Unfortunately, the easiest targets are those least responsible for the fear those thousands of children I spoke of take to bed with them each night.

Is there no one out there with the courage of Somaly Mam? Is there no one out there courageous enough to do the right thing, rather than that which is easiest?

Based on the actions of our lawmakers, I would guess not. And there certainly is tragedy in that truth.

“Worth Dying For”

By Tony Casson

“…deliver us from evil.”     Matthew 6:13 KJV

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Attributed to Edmund Burke

Here’s something you have yet to see in The Oakdale Chronicles – a book review. This isn’t just any book. It’s a life changer. As you might guess, this is going to be a rave review.

In my time at Oakdale FCI, I have read many books. I average around one a week – sometimes a little more. The books I have read run the gamut from the utterly frivolous and simply time-consuming to those that were insightful, inspiring and thought-provoking. The Bible, of course, has had a profoundly positive impact on how I view myself and how I am structuring my view of the world around me.

I have explored social conditions, humanity, politics, religion and civilization and I have read about many different beautiful places, people and creatures to be found throughout God’s creation. Many things I have read have altered my perspective a little or lent clarity to it. I have experienced a wide range of emotions covering a broad spectrum of topics. But I have tried to narrow my focus to works that will help me understand the human condition; to help me solidify my moral core; and to help me explore the depths of my own willingness to commit to something bigger than myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” I read those words and wondered if I could become a person who has discovered something worth dying for. Of course, there are my children – I would die for them and many people would say that. But I am talking about something else, something bigger, and something more important. Do I have the character to make a significant contribution to humanity? Sure, I write about social issues such as incarceration, the criminal justice system, morality and child sexual abuse in these Chronicles. But I do so from a protected place. I am not in any danger. My life is not on the line. I am safe.

Not so in the case of Somaly Mam, a remarkable woman I “met” recently through her book, “The Road of Lost Innocence.” She is a Cambodian woman of extraordinary courage and commitment and I strongly urge every living adult to become familiar with her by reading her story of human misery in the form of sex slavery and human trafficking in and around Cambodia.

As I read the book, her words tore through me, ripping at my heart, leaving it in shreds, making me hurt with a tangible reality. The mission she has undertaken as a result of the unimaginable depravity, violence and sexual abuse she has both experienced and witnessed makes this tiny woman a giant in the world of humanitarian action. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say that she is definitely fit to live.

Her writing style is not fancy, nor is it poetic. It is coarse, blunt, brutal, factual and real. The scenes of horror she describes are recounted simply and reluctantly, for each story brings back to her the intense pain and suffering that accompanied the original actions of depravity and total disregard for human life as she experienced and/or witnessed them. As exhibited in the following passage from the book, you can’t use pretty words to paint an ugly picture. Found on pages 59 and 60 of “The Road of Lost Innocence”, published in 2008 by Spiegel & Gram, is this incredibly painful description of the horror called life for many Cambodian girls:

     “Nowadays, the girls are much younger, too. This is because men in Cambodia will pay a thousand dollars to rape a virgin for a week… To make it clear they offer true bona fide virgins, the brothels today sell children. Often they are young girls, just five or six years old. After the week is over, they sew the girl inside – without an anesthetic – and quickly sell her again. A virgin is supposed to scream and bleed and this way, the girl will scream and bleed, again and again. They do it maybe three or four times.”

No flowing words; no need to pull out the dictionary; no metaphors; no abundance of adjectives to make a point. Just simple words of violence and abuse. And those words hurt as I read them. They cut deeply and as surely as with the sharpest knife. As you read the book, you will almost think you can hear Somaly’s voice. Even as she builds her foundation and begins to rescue other young girls from lives of captivity, abuse and forced prostitution, there is no victory in her “voice”. The sadness never leaves it, so profound and complete is the damage to her soul.

Later in the book, she writes, “I wondered if it is ever really possible to clear the past completely or whether you will always be haunted by what has been done to you and what you have done.”

As for Somaly’s work, you can look up – and hopefully support – her two organizations. The original group was founded in France: AFESIP (in English, it stands for “Assisting Women in Distressing Situations”), and in the United States, she founded www.somaly.org The latter raises money to combat human trafficking and sex slavery throughout the world. AFESIP is its largest recipient (or it was in 2008 when the book was published). The work of AFESIP is outlined in great detail in the book. It is a challenge and it is dangerous. As to why this amazing woman does it, Somaly herself says it best:

     “I don’t feel like I can change the world. I don’t even try. I only want to change the small life that I see in front of me which is suffering. I want to change this small, real thing that is the destiny of one little girl, and then another, and another. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or sleep at night.”

If that’s not worth dying for, I don’t know what is. Read the book. If it doesn’t affect you – if it doesn’t alter you – if it doesn’t change you – look in the mirror and ask yourself why.