“If not now, when?” These words were uttered by Hillel, a Rabbi and teacher who lived at the time of Christ. Though he was not from Jerusalem, an obstacle for moving up the ranks in the temple hierarchy, he assumed a leadership role as a teacher and a religious leader.
He was famous for cutting through all of the various excuses and getting to the moral point in an argument. “If not now when” carries a clear message and has resounded down through the centuries: if there is a problem, an evil, a plague that shouts for attention and action, we have no excuse to hesitate because there will be no relief from an evil until we focus our attention and will on eradicating it.
Children are the point here. There are some who will say they have always been the point, but that view is held be a disturbingly small minority. Throughout the centuries, before there were the simplest of universal laws to protect children, these weakest and defenseless of human beings got the worst of the abuse the world seems happy to dish out. Around the time the Civil War ended an awareness of the plight of children developed in our country due to the swelling numbers of orphans. I’ve read that the first legal maneuvering in defense of children in our country was through laws that were designed to prevent animal cruelty. There were no laws to protect children at the time
In more recent times child abuse has followed it dark path, with thousands of children unknown victims in the shadows. So many things in our society are like that; if it happens behind closed doors, what business is it of ours? Children died or disappeared in droves, both in biological homes and foster homes. At some point in the last few decades, a new awareness of child abuse brought about changes in the law. Child abuse became a crime and professionals like teachers and doctors became mandated reporters: not reporting child abuse became a crime.
The courts began to take on criminal and civil charges of child abuse. Unprepared for this formerly distasteful subject, our legal system limped through it first few decades of child protection, sometimes getting it right, often missing the point and returning children to their abusers or giving custody to pedophiles who just happened to be the child’s parent.
On the other side of the ugly coin witch hunts began to spring up in which parents and people who worked with children were falsely accused of Satanist tinged ritualistic child abuse and murder.
All this time, the law scrambled to keep pace. Only the laws developed for child abuse were limited in scope and not designed to strategically attack child abuse. And then something amazing happened. In the first decade of the twenty-first century a man who had the read the books of Andrew Vachss decided that something needed to be done. Vachss had heard the words of Hillel years ago and had spent decades helping children, most recently as a lawyer representing children exclusively.
What Andrew Vacchss has done would take a book to explain. For our purposes we can call him the hero that inspired one of the founders of Protect.org. The reality is that, were it not for Andrew Vachss and his dedication to this cause, it could have been years before this miracle occurred. The past does not paint an optimistic picture for a future without Protect.org. After thousands of years of child abuse I think we can call the formation and expansion of Protect.org a minor miracle.
What Protect.org began as is a strange animal for those involved in the law and politics. Its founder was involved in politics, a man who organized political campaigns. Inspired by the dark world in Andrew Vachss’s books he dreamed of a lobby to work on strengthening child abuse laws in the U.S. Most lobbies serve far less philanthropic industries and organizations. The liquor industry has a lobby. And so does the NRA, a very effective one. The point is that a lobbies do not have the best reputations and Protect is an amazing evolution of a tool used only by special interest groups into a use that fits our constitution and the humanitarianism that the various government bodies in the U.S. claim as their fundamental principle.
Since its founding Protect has expanded and spun off a sister organization called The National Association to Protect Children which works to fight child abuse across the board and doesn’t limit itself to lobbying. In addition Protect has demonstrated its serious intent and its inventiveness by starting the H.E.R.O Child Rescue Corps. These are military veterans who are being trained to fight the exploding network of producers of child pornography. Joining in this fight is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory who is using its super-computers to analyze files on various servers to find pockets of child pornography.
In the long run, the only way to effectively fight child abuse is to make the laws harsh enough to take pedophiles off the street, to break the back of trafficking and a growing child pornography industry. What Protect.org is doing is allowing children to live the American dream, providing that opportunity to thousands of children who, without help, will live lives of depression and, possibly, criminal behavior. What is most frightening is the real possibility that these damaged children may become abusers themselves.
Go to Protect.Org. Donate what you can. And get involved. For one child out there, alone, your contribution will be immense.