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None of us can wash our hands of this

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So. This isn’t going to be an incohate rant, or a fun quirky post.


Let’s start with this.

This is objectively awful. It is almost too awful to process. It would be awful if there were one. 1,250 in the last 7 years is… I don’t know. I don’t even know what that is.

But I do know some other things. Not the least of which is that none of us can wash our hands of this. None of us.

Without knowing the details of the individual cases, I already guess that a high percentage of these children will be children of color. Because I also know that people of color are likely to live and work in areas with high rates of poverty and crime, which, in it’s hideous turn leads to a dearth of law enforcement involvement when a child initially goes missing. This is our disposable underclass. We show these people, these families and their children how little we value them in every way. This is just one of the ugliest facets of the ugliness that we have institutionalized. This is the consequence of institutionalized racism, and the increasing gap between the rich and poor. As that gap grows, the narrative that poor people are lazy, are stupid, are inferior, simply refuse to pull themselves up out of poverty, are spending our tax dollars willy nilly and ruining society gives people a reason not to care. Devaluing these people makes them vulnerable to every kind of abuse. Fullstop. No excuse.

I also know that this is a symptom of rape culture. Which, in it’s hideous turn, is a symptom of the patriarchy. I know this because rape culture frames sex as “real” when it is something done by the powerful to weak. Because this is not an illness which rises in isolation, or a genetic abberation– that there is a market for this means that we have embedded this idea of what sex is, what power is, so deeply into our culture that far too many adults, far too many of them men, are willing to enact that narrative.

There is no way for me to say that I am disconnected from what happened to these children. Because I live in society, because I am engaged in as well as immersed in the structures which perpetuate the environment that allows this to occur. This is not about blame, or fault, but it is about responsibility.

Feminists say “the personal is political.” It sure is. The structural is personal too.

I want to say something wise. I want to say, to refuse one’s culpability in the structures of one’s society is to create opression. It is to oppress, with the best intentions in the wide world. Good intention without action isn’t enough. Turning inward, becoming insular, closing the ranks and refusing to reach out, to watch out, to fucking see– is to build a foundation for a perpetual motion machine of abuse, and exploitation, slavery, rape and torture.

I want to say that “I got mine, fuck y’all” should be the most shameful, unacceptable philosophy in the world.

But in the end, all that I can say is that I don’t have clean hands. That nothing is disconnected, that we are all linked to each other, across the wide world, that when we disavow our responsibilities to each other, we cheapen ourselves in the bargain.

And then I want to say– I’m so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Someone should have been watching, and watching out for you. And someone should have made sure that that someone was watching, and on and on in a chain straight back to me, and everyone I know.

I’m glad that they were rescued. I am profoundly, terribly sad that they had to be rescued. I am profoundly sad that so many of these kids have no homes to go back to.

So, now, a few years late and a lot of dollars short, please, if you can, lobby for more and better resources for struggling families, for state programs to help and protect children, for better law enforcement, for people to give a damn.

Donate to Children of the Night.

Donate to The Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

And don’t forget. If you have privilege, exercise it.




About Pepper

Pepper Lee Hales is a twenty something, married, vicious feminist liberal. She likes dogs, cats, spiders, epistemics and cake.

4 responses »

  1. There’s two other documentaries on this subject- China’s Lost Girls and one set in Amsterdam (I forgot its name, argh). Sadly, this is a world wide phenomenon. Arguably just as disgusting and inflicted by patriarchy. Personally, I cannot fathom looking at children so young in a sexual way. It’s not even that I’m a mother, its just the mere knowledge of how underdeveloped their minds and sense of person is. The knowledge of how devastating this would be. Not only is the fact that this happens is profoundly sad, but the fact that it happens in nearly every country is inexcusable and disgusting.

  2. Yeah– It’s huge and awful and unfathomable. I don’t mean to fall prey to American exceptionalism either, this shit happens everywhere. And definitely a symptom of a huge overarching big masculinity in the sky which is terrified of being vulnerable ever and so inflicts it’s worst fears on the most vulnerable among us. I don’t even know. But I feel relatively more responsible for the things that happen relatively closer to my community. In terms of holding people accountable, you know? Augh, I need to hug my cats now.

  3. I have no words.

    There are so many things in the world that make me feel helpless. Where I don’t know what to do, or how to start. Where I feel apathetic – and I don’t want to be.

    It was disgusting to me how big the Elizabeth Smart (I only bring that up because I knew the Smarts…) case became – in light of the many many other children who went missing.

    Excellent post, once again.

    • Yeah, it’s so hard not to just shut down in the face of so much awfulness. Seconded on the Elizabeth Smart type cases, where a cute white girl goes missing and dominates the news cycle, sending another clear signal about who we value. Not to erase her trauma, because holy shit, but also we need to be spreading the resources around equally. And maybe not wasting so much time and money on drug busting. It’s an unwinnable war.


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