Andrew Vachss: Lawyer Who’s Seen It All Reveals the Worst Form of Abuse
“The truth is as simple as it is terrifying: Sickness is a condition. Evil is a behavior. Evil is not thought; it is conduct. And that conduct is always volitional.” —Andrew Vachss
By Cat Saunders
Author’s Note from 11/28/04: This is an “outlawed” article that refuses to be silenced. On November 5th, 2004, it was submitted to one of my longtime publishers for use as my regular column in December 2004. A week later, the editor (a newcomer to the magazine) contacted me to say he would not publish the piece. He said he was concerned about being sued by the man who is mentioned in the article. The editor persisted in his refusal to publish the column. He did so even though I did not use the man’s name and shared only basic information that is already public record. The court cases involved the man’s harassment of his daughter (a minor), his ex-wife, and me. I know from getting my own legal advice that this article does not overstep any bounds legally or professionally. Therefore, I’m publishing it online in hopes that it can help prevent abuse and save other children from harm.
Andrew Vachss (pronounced “Vax” like “tax”) is one of my most beloved heroes. It’s not because I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I think about him. Vachss is my hero because he goes after child predators like a wolf after prey, and he always wins. This guy is a warrior cum laude. Before I made direct contact with Vachss in July 2000, I watched him from afar for about ten years. I followed his work to see if my initial respect for him would hold up under the test of time. Actually, my respect for him has grown. Some people refer to Vachss as “that lawyer with the eye patch.” He is a lawyer with an eye patch, but that description doesn’t say much. Vachss is famous for his series of crime novels featuring a character named Burke. But it’s his other writing—as an advocate for children—that gets my blood pumping. His relentless pursuit of child predators inspires me, big time. It also gives me more courage to stand up to abusive people in my own life. In August of 2003, my partner, John Giovine, and I were granted a ten-year Protection Order against the father of a 15-year-old girl who was my counseling client. Instead of taking any responsibility for his actions, this man denied that he’d ever hurt anyone. He blamed me and his ex-wife for the fact that his daughter wanted no contact with him, even though she stopped seeing him before I started counseling her. The man’s ex-wife of twelve years was also granted a Protection Order, and his daughter was granted a Restraining Order against him. Their cases as well as mine are matters of public record, and my client and her mother gave me permission to write about this. December 2004 (when this column was first published) marked 20 months of dealing with this man’s repeated attacks on my personal and professional well-being. Those months included countless hours of pro bono advocacy work by me in behalf of my client (the man’s daughter). This work took place behind the scenes and directly. It also involved written testimony to support my client’s case in King County Superior Court as well as in Family Court. In addition to my advocacy work, this situation required several interactions with the police. Officers from the Seattle Police Department were respectful and supportive without exception. They arrested and temporarily jailed the father of my client because of his threats toward me in August 2003. The police also took additional action after that regarding other incidents of harassment involving me as well as his ex-wife. Throughout this intense and exhausting saga, what keeps me going is my absolute conviction that children deserve protection. Since my client didn’t feel safe with her father, it was my job–as her advocate–to help her get whatever she needed to feel safe. The father of my client did not cause direct physical harm to his ex-wife, his daughter, or me. However, his threats of physical violence, his lewd sexual language and profane name-calling, and his other forms of psychological abuse wreaked havoc in our lives and in the lives of those around us. My hero, Andrew Vachss, has numerous enemies. I’m sure he’s on every pedophile’s hit list! Many people attack his work publicly and would like to see him dead. Yet he keeps going in the face of all odds, because the children he protects are more important than his own comfort. If Vachss can put up with all that hate to advocate for countless children worldwide, I figure I can put up with one man’s hate to defend the welfare of one child. Vachss understands the soul-murdering destructiveness of psychological abuse. He really gets it about the seriousness of emotional abuse. In the article “You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart” (Parade Magazine 8/28/94), Vachss writes: People who know what I do always ask: “What is the worst case you ever handled?” When you’re in a business where a baby who dies early may be the luckiest child in the family, there’s no easy answer. But I have thought about it–I think about it every day. My answer is that, of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all. I’m a helping professional who thinks personal responsibility is the number one issue in life. That’s why I love Andrew Vachss: because he takes responsibility, he inspires others to take responsibility, and he goes after the most irresponsible people of all—those who abuse children.
This article was published in December 2004 and updated in May 2017. To learn more about Andrew Vachss and his work, please visit www.vachss.com. To read Cat’s personal tribute to Vachss on this Web site, please click here.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).