Welcome to Hell

Yesterday my mother forwarded a copy of the lengthy expose on child sex slavery in the U.S., “The Girls Next Door” by Peter Landesman, from the NY Times Magazine. Even though I thought I already knew all this stuff, still, as they say, the devil is in the details. Here are a few of the details I found particularly disturbing:

“Andrea told me she was transported to Juarez dozens of times. During one visit, when she was about 7 years old, the trafficker took her to the Radisson Casa Grande Hotel, where there was a john waiting in a room. The john was an older American man, and he read Bible passages to her before and after having sex with her. Andrea described other rooms she remembered in other hotels in Mexico: the Howard Johnson in Leon, the Crowne Plaza in Guadalajara. She remembers most of all the ceiling patterns. ‘When I was taken to Mexico, I knew things were going to be different,’ she said. The ‘customers’ were American businessmen. ‘The men who went there had higher positions, had more to lose if they were caught doing these things on the other side of the border. I was told my purpose was to keep these men from abusing their own kids.’ Later she told me: ‘The white kids you could beat but you couldn’t mark. But with Mexican kids you could do whatever you wanted. They’re untraceable. You lose nothing by killing them.'”

“‘They’d get you hungry then to train you’ to have oral sex, she said. ‘They’d put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better. We learned responses. Like if they wanted us to be sultry or sexy or scared. Most of them wanted you scared. When I got older I’d teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn’t hurt.'”

“‘There’s a vast misunderstanding of what coercion is, of how little it takes to make someone a slave,’ Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission said. ‘The destruction of dignity and sense of self, these girls’ sense of resignation. . . . ‘ He didn’t finish the sentence.”

“There were streams of Web pages of thumbnail images of young women of every ethnicity in obvious distress, bound, gagged, contorted. The agents in the room pointed out probable injuries from torture. Cyberauctions for some of the women were in progress; one had exceeded $300,000. ‘With new Internet technology,’ Woo said, ‘pornography is becoming more pervasive. With Web cams we’re seeing more live molestation of children.’ One of [the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency]’s recent successes, Operation Hamlet, broke up a ring of adults who traded images and videos of themselves forcing sex on their own young children.”

“[T]he supply of cheap girls and young women to feed the global appetite appears to be limitless. And it’s possible that the crimes committed against them in the U.S. cut deeper than elsewhere, precisely because so many of them are snared by the glittery promise of an America that turns out to be not their salvation but their place of destruction.”

“Even Andrea, who was born in the United States and spoke English, says she never thought of escaping, ‘because what’s out there? What’s out there was scarier. We had customers who were police, so you were not going to go talk to a cop. We had this customer from Nevada who was a child psychologist, so you’re not going to go talk to a social worker. So who are you going to talk to?'”

I’d been planning to blog on the question of evil, but it’s such a huge topic. In some ways theology and mythology help us get a grip on it, but in other ways they simply muddy the water. (Throwing in the whole problem of suffering, for instance, is a distraction. Job’s conundrum, the problem of cosmic or situational evil – i.e., when bad things happen to good people – has really nothing in common with questions about what the Rabbis wisely identify as the Evil Urge.) Psychology helps a little too, but it doesn’t tell us what we most need to know – such as, why be good at all? Where does altruism come from? How can love, which seems so weak and puny, overwhelm terror and hatred, sometimes even cure indifference – arguably the greatest sin of all? My evolving position on the question of evil is partly liberal (just following rules and obeying commandments isn’t enough) and partly conservative (bad backgrounds, mental instability, etc. do not excuse or even always help to explain the origin of evil in the human heart).

But this morning, the catharsis of writing a poem in the style of my guru Ai (Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, Greed, etc.). Sometimes I think the only rational response to radical evil is the practice of radical empathy – even if one still feels at some level that bastards like this deserve to die slowly. It is easy to speak for the victim; who will speak for the perpetrator? Is the exercise even worthwhile? Does it ennoble or diminish us, to try and see the world through the eyes of sick, violent psychopaths?

For those who aren’t familiar with it, please click on the link and read the entire 19th chapter of Genesis.


Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man;
let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you,
and do ye to them as is good in your eyes . . .


We crouch
before You: two sinners
filled with darkness. Who
made us so
but You? This daughter
of mine, already a harlot,
and I a sometime preacher: each
a little of the dove, a little of
the serpent. Belly to belly
with the dust. If I were nothing
but my sin, would I
still crave, time & again, those
whistling wings her
fingers around
the parts of me oh God that are most
apart from You?
Ah, these wide
brown eyes, the little animal
aching its back, knocking against
the ribcage, ah, the temblors that shake
the flat plain of her chest!
Not too much longer & yes, corruption
will flower here too: original sin,
twin cities puffed with hubris.
I have read in Your Book how
the righteous Lot offered
his own daughters to the mob –
to no good end. What
happens afterward is no different
from any of this. In the end
no one is spared, not even
the wife. Your fire descends
and descends. There is no
clean start.

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