Andrew Vachss

Photo of attorney Andrew Vachss
Andrew Vachss

By Cat Saunders

Andrew Vachss is one of my heroes. I like this guy so much that I rearranged this section of my website, alphabetizing now by first name instead of last, just so I could give him top billing. It’s a small gesture, perhaps, but a sincere tribute nonetheless.

Before I made direct contact with Andrew Vachss (pronouncd “Vax” rhymes with “Max”) in July of 2000, I watched him from afar for several years, ever since I read a deep moving article by him in Parade Magazine in 1994. The title of the article was “You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart” and it’s about what he considers—and I agree to be—the worst form of abuse: emotional abuse.  I’ve given away so many copies of that article to clients and friends that I’ve lost count.

Although I was pretty sold on Vachss just from that one article, I needed to see if my initial respect for him as a gutsy warrior—with revolutionary ideas, practical solutions, and passionate devotion to the cause—remained constant over time. Actually, my respect for him grew over time.

Although Vachss is famous for his series of crime novels that feature a character named Burke, it is his other work in the world that first caught my attention. Vachss is an attorney who relentlessly goes after predators who prey on children.

I’d tell you all about it, but he and plenty of other writers have already done a good job of that. In fact, you can go to his Web site right now and start with a great piece called “Andrew Vachss: Beating the Devil.” It was written by Zak Mucha and originally published in the April 2000 issue of Gallery Magazine.

Once you’re on Vachss’ Web site, you might as well hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door, because you’re probably going to be there for a while. His Web site has enough reading material (not to mention great pictures) to keep someone busy for 30 years of solitary confinement. And it’s all good stuff. Really good.

As Vachss once told me in a letter, he seems to inspire everything except disinterest. He has a reputation for offending people with his outspoken views about the idea that we are what we do, the absolute belief that evil is always a choice, and the radically responsible notion that our child protective and juvenile justice systems are not only not working, but that they actually contribute to the creation of predators.

Ironically, it seems that the very things that offend others about Vachss are precisely the things that inspire the hell out of me. For example, let me entice you to read the text of a speech he gave many years ago that so inflamed some people that they walked out. It’s called “Who Is the Serious, Violent, Habitual Offender?

If you read it, I promise that you’ll either be incited or insulted—or perhaps both at different times. But you won’t be bored. As for me, I was cheering wildly, thinking that the world could use a whole army of Andrew Vachsses. Actually, it’s up to all of us to be that army and take responsibility for protecting our children against predators. His Web site can show you how.

I’m one of those helping professionals who thinks that responsibility is the number one issue in therapy—and in life. This is one big reason I love Andrew Vachss: because he takes responsibility and gets things done.

If you want a hundred more reasons why this guy blows my socks off, check out his Web site or see below to search his Web site’s extensive RESOURCES section.

P.S. to dog lovers: Andrew’s site has an amazing photo gallery of canine warriors, including John’s and my special friend, Zeke. After Zeke died in July 2001, Andrew offered to add Zeke to the “Backup Pack” section of his Web site, so Zeke could live on in cyberspace. If you’d like to see Zeke on Andrew’s site, and thereby find yourself in a good position to peruse dozens of other dog photos (complete with personalized and often hilarious captions), 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).