In my book, The Invasion, I’ve written about the terrible photos that I saw on a CD full of child pornography collected by my ex-husband. It was missed by the federal agents in 2005 when they entered the house, seized boxes of his CDs and arrested him.
The tone of my writing about photos of child pornography from that time is slightly detached. I didn’t know those children in the pictures; I lived thousands of miles away. And what I saw and responded to were photos, not flesh and blood children. My reaction to the plight of these girls from Russia and Eastern Europe, who had been kidnapped or sold as sex slaves, was one of horror, but it still wasn’t personal. There was space between my heart and their lives.
I didn’t know the young women in the article in the January 29th NY Times magazine either, but they’re American and I imagine they probably looked and acted similarly to my children when they were young, at least before these young women’s lives were devastated. In my mind’s eye I imagined a girl, with straight blond hair, a typical American child, drawn from the 1950s, when books and magazines believed that all children were blond and had blue eyes.
One young woman in the article had appeared in the courthouse in Bridgeport, CT, where I’ve been, a mere ten miles from my house. Oh yes, I could identify with her.
I was insensitive to the plight of the Eastern European victims, whose faces were just as sad, with eyes just as empty as I imagine the Americans were. While I feel guilty now at my lack of understanding, I know people usually identify more easily with those who are like themselves.
If schoolgirls from far-away places manage to escape this horror, unlike those in the article, they have no support, no counseling and no lawyer working for them. There is no dedicated organization to guide them and investigate what can be done. No strong, effective police force works to find and prosecute the men who not only force them to be sex slaves but also sell their photos and videos over and over.
I know all this, but it took the article about Americans to make them and their past experiences real, so that I could relate to them personally. Although there were no photos, I could visualize these young women and my heart opened to their horror.
My empathy and compassion now flows to the girls whose faces I clearly remember from the photos on the CD, whose eyes reflected no hope, whose expressions were dead.