Sex slavery in America
September 14, 2014 1:36 PM   Subscribe

It's not always obvious, but Cracked does some amazing true life interviewing and reporting buried in a (very) thin veneer of black humour. From John Cheese's writings on growing out of alcoholism to Robert Evans' personal experience articles, they do a surprisingly good job at telling intense, hard-to-read stories. This is their take on sex slavery. Holy shit trigger warnings.
posted by ChrisR (74 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's interesting how Cracked has evolved from being a Mad Magazine wannabe to something entirely different.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:52 PM on September 14, 2014 [21 favorites]


That's the most depressing thing I've read in a long time.
posted by jeather at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I came across this earlier today and... Jesus...
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's very good for people to be informed (or at least, to have accurate information be available) about the painful realities of social trends and patterns like what they're calling sex slavery here, simply because that seems likely to generate action and awareness which can combat it and protect people from that terrible violation and trauma. However, I can't help feeling that there are two kind of odd things about this particular article, the one from the last link. Consider this quote:

The next question that's flashing through your mind is probably, "Why didn't you tell someone?"

I did -- I was just 6 years old when I (accidentally) mentioned something about my "uncles" to a teacher -- I just said something like: "My uncle's came over and we had fun," because those were the words my mom always used. If you think at this point a SWAT team raced to my house and busted everyone, you and I live in different worlds. What happened instead was the teacher called my mom, and she talked her way out of it somehow. When I got home, she beat me up, I think to block out her entire Terrible Person Bingo card.


Now, I wouldn't expect them to just do reportage the same way newspapers or magazines do, in general. But here, I think that their house style of ending paragraphs about somewhat serious topics with a punchline is really jarring and undercuts the moral gravity of what we're talking about; if that's what the person involved actually said, then it's not my place to say that the tone is all wrong. This was clearly written by incorporating details of her life, however, and it's just weird to think "Oh, jeez, this is getting a bit heavy! Let's throw a joke in." It would be shockingly naive to think that there isn't any topic for which their irreverent style is unsuited.

The second thing is that there don't seem to be any direct quotations from the woman whose life if being revealed here. Maybe she didn't want that, of course. I have no way of knowing and it is her life to reveal or describe or relate on whatever terms she wants. So I don't think there's anyone who necessarily did anything wrong, with the second odd thing here, but it seems strange to me that the article is written in the first person but gives the distinct impression of having been built around a story that was told to the actual writer, who is not the woman involved.
posted by clockzero at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I grew up when Cracked Magazine was still a thing. I'm old enough to remember Sylvester P. Smythe, the little blond janitor guy who was the magazine's rather sad attempt at an Alfred E. Neuman ripoff. It's weird enough to see Cracked thriving online, but it's even weirder to see what it's become.

Articles like the slave trade one are fascinating, but I get a little queasy about all the jokes that are presumably inserted by the Cracked staffers who "co-write" these things. Like, "your story about being a sex slave is great stuff... but we're just gonna bring in one of our staffers to punch it up with some gags, OK?" The jokes do make these grim articles a lot easier to get through, but... it just feel weird and creepy. I'd like to see what these articles are like, before the jokes are put in.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:08 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. Let's not slide into a big derail about the nature of libertarianism, please.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


What struck me - other than how incredibly resilient she is, and the fear that not everyone is as resilient - is her point about how much money people have to have to buy girls this way. You always think that the movie villain/SF-dystopia evil rich dude who abuses people is just this sort of...cartoon figure. But actually there must be plenty of them out there, making big money and buying young people to abuse just because they can get away with it - one of the side effects of profound economic inequality, not just that people have to sell themselves this way or that there isn't any enforcement against it, but that people have the cash lying around, and apparently one crooked, crooked accountant to cover up the transactions, and the money to pay the crooked accountant, and all the other money you need so that you feel like you can just drop $100,000 on a person because all your other investments are all maxed out.
posted by Frowner at 2:34 PM on September 14, 2014 [36 favorites]


It's disorienting to read something like this on Cracked and I share some of the criticisms above wrt. tone & form, but circumstantially it draws into question our notions of proper place and tone. Who can publish a piece that addresses grievous social harms? Only the New Yorker or the Times? And in what way are we permitted to discuss such material? It seems no large jump from "please drop the gags and be serious" to "unless you change your tone I won't listen."

I'm not trying to argue one way or the other; I think it's important to consider the way we respond to things.
posted by an animate objects at 2:35 PM on September 14, 2014 [16 favorites]


"If I burn dinner, I have an immediate panic attack."

I hate that I recognise this so well.

Also what in the world is wrong with people telling the mom & step-dad what she told them when asking for help?
posted by dabitch at 2:39 PM on September 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


I initially found the form off-putting, but on further consideration I decided otherwise. I'm assuming that the anonymous woman was not surprised that this turned out in listicle format, and that she agreed to work with Cracked knowing the house style. I also assume that the writing is significantly hers, what with it being in the first person.
posted by jeather at 2:42 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I suspect they punch up the articles with wry or dark humor for the same reason The Daily Show is about the only way a media outlet can communicate the kind of shit that goes down between government and the private sector, day in day out, to a mass audience without losing them.

Because not many people can read or watch unalleviated bleakness very often. So they provide little mental releases in the forms of jokes that help you take it all in. I don't blame them for doing this at all.

Also, there seems to be an assumption in some comments above that the anonymous subject wasn't consulted on or responsible for any of these little zingers. I would be very surprised if that were true.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2014 [35 favorites]


I really like the style of this piece. It's a thing I started to notice about ten years ago -- that journalistic storytelling, which used to be all about establishing and maintaining a consistent tone, was starting to layer multiple contradictory emotional tones onto a single story. I probably came across it first on This American Life, where it's not uncommon for a story to be let's say gently funny and kinda wry and deeply sad, all at once. And then I feel like I started seeing it in other places too -- mostly at funny/entertainment sites seeming to allow for more seriousness. Like this article, and maybe Vice and Buzzfeed as well.

I like it. I think it's like real life, and it makes for a richer, fuller story. Sex slave surely do crack jokes sometimes.
posted by Susan PG at 2:45 PM on September 14, 2014 [17 favorites]


I take Cracked's tone to be the spoonful of sugar, not only for difficult topics, but for in-depth longform pieces presented to a relatively low-effort audience who wants to be sure the author will be interesting and give them a break from work. (It's mostly work-reading, right?)

And really, if it gets people to read and remember stuff like
human trafficking (forcing someone into labor or sex acts against their will) is a $9.5 billion industry in the USA -- to pick a random comparison, that's four times what the Burger King chain takes in.
so much the better. Because it worked on me, and holy shit.
posted by postcommunism at 2:48 PM on September 14, 2014 [23 favorites]


I have Cracked on my Facebook feed because they consistently put out interesting articles like this, but sometimes the sense of humor gets old. There was one really great article last month ago on Ferguson that I wanted to share with friends (which is something I very rarely do). I eventually decided against it because the article had placed random YouTube videos of people farting throughout. I do get that the site was trying to communicate their opinion of the police and their actions with this, but it does make it more difficult to share.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Okay, having finished it I now read the tone not just as Cracked's house style but (I hope) sarcasm from a woman who survived absolute shit and I'm going to assume that's the case and the context in which to take lines like
If that sounds incredibly racist, or downright silly, you're right. No one's accusing the dudes who buy children of being mature adults.
And holy heck, the way she escaped the second dude who owned her... what kind of story must he be telling himself about life and relationships that anything about that scenario made sense to him.

I bet it even hurt his feelings.
posted by postcommunism at 3:04 PM on September 14, 2014 [16 favorites]


Cracked is one of those sources in my RSS that varies widely, but I can frequently pick up the gist from the title and first 50 words to decide whether to click or not. I remain hopeful that fairly soon they mature enough to not require EVERY article to be in "Listicle" format, but the Ferguson article with comic-relief farts that AlonzoMosleyFBI referred to shows that they still have a ways to go. (Another weird thing at the site is the evolution of their "Photoplasty" image contests into collections of illustrated factoids... a whole other kind of Listicle. I also noticed they've hired one of the better 'shoppers (alias: Auntie Meme) to do entire lists on certain topics. What can you say; it's the Web.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:06 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


In middle school there was this classmate and we (at least a large group of girls--I wasn't that close with her, but this was fairly common knowledge) all knew about how her stepfather was abusing her. Frustratingly, some of our male classmates also treated her as a thing to use. At some point she must have told a teacher or the school counselor. Her protection was not anywhere near a priority. The family was encouraged to stay together. I'm sure those in charge looked at her reputation in the school to imply she was an unreliable narrator. As a teenaged girl on the outside looking in, the whole thing was depressing.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:08 PM on September 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


There really needs to be a body of law on the procedure to follow in the sort of situation that she found herself in a child. Like for example, on any child making a report of this kind you do not go to the parents, for reasons that ought to be obvious to any idiot and which her story makes clear. You start an investigation, you put the house under surveillance, you attempt to identify clients from the child's description and you check against arrest records, etc. Unfortunately her situation was complicated by being in a rural setting where everyone knew each other and nobody actually wanted to know.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:10 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah I agree that this just might get more readership in this style than some of the longer more intense pieces that people avoid because they just can't deal.

And I think, probably though I could be totally wrong, if someone agree to do an article in this style to get their story out with facts and figures and such-- I would much rather focus on the story than that they did it wrong and focus on that to the degree her whole story gets neglected.

It's seems almost like a thing one would do to cope with the fact the actual content is hard to engage with and it feels easier to comment on the writing style or whether they are are getting the message out correctly.

I mean maybe it could have been better, but I think the content is important enough to merit at least some discussion of THAT?

My cousin was passed around her brothers friends as a child. She became a sex worker and an addict. I feel like the line between "sex worker" and "sex slave" is often too blurred to tell the difference.

I wanted to kick her fucking john's in the teeth. I got stuck at her house once and woke up on the couch bed where she and her john had started fucking and some dude was sitting in a chair watching having a smoke. I pity the dude's who were dirt poor fellow addicts, but some of these dude's had MONEY and were not so trapped in their addiction that they had no idea what they were doing.

I want to say something more coherant other than I want to punch people in the teeth but that's all I can think about right now, that and to remind myself I am mostly a pacifist and I would not be pleased to actually see someone suffer even for the cause of righteous justice over and over. Though, if the divine had some manner of creating humanely attributed righteous wrath with only the intent to bring about an understanding of the depth of the harm caused and opportunities for redemption of the spirit I would be all for it. It's unfortunate I find it unlikely there is a functional divine in service of compassion and justice, or they would have stopped this before it ever happened, to my mind.

Next best; we figure out how to really address this in a more effective way. Because this is not ok. And societies that enable this need to be part of the solution, not just everyone absolving themselves of responsibility and saying well it's not MY fault!
posted by xarnop at 3:15 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


God, cracked's typical fark-esque snark here like "Grand prize? A copy of Mein Kampf signed by Josef Stalin." feels so tastelessly out of place. Like holy shit wow.
posted by emptythought at 3:28 PM on September 14, 2014


This was clearly written by incorporating details of her life, however, and it's just weird to think "Oh, jeez, this is getting a bit heavy! Let's throw a joke in." It would be shockingly naive to think that there isn't any topic for which their irreverent style is unsuited.

The stories I have to tell about my early life are not quite this horrific, but I do add a bit of 'this is the part where you're allowed to laugh,' or other things that sound joke-y. Not because I think any of it is funny but because I would either cry, melt from shame, or expect my listener needs some 'comic relief' from the heavy topic. I couldn't get through these stories without such literary devices.

I'll be sure to avoid recounting my childhood horrors to you, since you express that what amounts to my tone is inappropriate.

When you make a tone argument with a survivor of sexual assault, it suggests that your comfort is more important than the material presented. Thanks for clarifying your priorities.
posted by tulip-socks at 3:43 PM on September 14, 2014 [97 favorites]


Yeah, the tone sounds very similar to a lot of stories of childhood sexual abuse that survivors tell. Humor is a coping mechanism, and a fairly healthy one. If someone could prove that the survivor told the story in a totally traumatized sobbing way and the Cracked writer thought, "Needs to be punchier," then I'll buy the idea that the tone is off.

I appreciate them pointing out that childhood sex slavery is as common as Walmart. One of the things I find frustrating is when people act like rape and abuse, of adults or children, is rare. It happens all the time. People ignoring how common it is end up letting it continue, because they don't believe victims when they come forward.
posted by jaguar at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2014 [20 favorites]


I hope this woman finds some peace. I've definitely read too many comic books though because I want to justice her family Kill Bill style.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:50 PM on September 14, 2014


Yeah. Once when I was eleven I had a sleepover at a friend's house and while we were watching television her father was molesting her under a blanket. I remember being confused and frozen with horror and also weirdly pacified, because her mother kept coming in and out of the room, and I felt like if two adults (including a mother!) were condoning something, that pretty much guaranteed it couldn't be as wrong as it seemed. I never told anyone, and I have no idea what happened to my friend.

This article was educational for me and it makes perfect sense that this is what sexual slavery looks like. It also makes sense that we distance ourselves from it by pretending it only happens far far away, and not in our own towns, inside families we know.
posted by Susan PG at 3:54 PM on September 14, 2014


I thought Cracked's tone was very appropriate for Cracked. Perhaps they shouldn't have covered it at all, but I think they've done some good as well as gotten some advertising dollars.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:55 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


God, cracked's typical fark-esque snark here like "Grand prize? A copy of Mein Kampf signed by Josef Stalin." feels so tastelessly out of place. Like holy shit wow.

Yeah, kind of. I wasn't saying that she didn't sign off on the jokes (and for all I know most of them could be hers) and I wasn't saying that the tone of the thing invalidated what she was saying. But it did feel like the Cracked gags were shoehorned into the thing. It didn't make the content more approachable for me, sometimes it was actually distancing. I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't talk about this stuff, and I'm not saying there's no room for humor when discussing grim subjects. But this stuff was an awkward fit for a jokey Cracked listicle, and I think Cracked could have backed off on this one and let it breathe a little.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:07 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'll be sure to avoid recounting my childhood horrors to you, since you express that what amounts to my tone is inappropriate.

When you make a tone argument with a survivor of sexual assault, it suggests that your comfort is more important than the material presented. Thanks for clarifying your priorities.


Holy shit, that's a bit harsh.

What i at least was taking issue with was the photo captions that are obviously inserted by the cracked writers, or cracked themselves. The actual tone of the writing wasn't an issue at all and i agree sounded really normal.

It was cracked shaking sprinkles on top after the fact and making it "zany" and humorous outside of that writing i found tasteless.

I don't think anyone is making the point you're defending against here, way to paint us all with a shit-brush. Do you really feel that it's not ok to take issue with how cracked presented this? Because the pre-roll and the photo captions are obviously not written by the person who wrote the general story.

There's a huge difference between the "No one's accusing the dudes who buy children of being mature adults" snark she threw in that felt in context, and the stuff they threw in... which felt like abrupt code switching, or a shitty laugh track, or something.
posted by emptythought at 4:09 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


an animate objects >

It's disorienting to read something like this on Cracked and I share some of the criticisms above wrt. tone & form, but circumstantially it draws into question our notions of proper place and tone. Who can publish a piece that addresses grievous social harms? Only the New Yorker or the Times?

I don't see it as a question of who can do that. Anyone is permitted to do that. Nobody (here, anyway) is saying that Cracked cannot publish articles on certain topics. Simply because they can do so, and do so in much the same manner that they talk about much more trivial things than the rape of children, doesn't mean that doing so is necessarily a thoughtful challenge to some putative monopoly on Serious Matters that the NYT or the New Yorker hold. It might just be a callous shot at getting pageviews and attention, for example, both of which are things that the business Cracked.com can be assumed to be working towards in a general sense.

And in what way are we permitted to discuss such material? It seems no large jump from "please drop the gags and be serious" to "unless you change your tone I won't listen."

Again, I think casting this in the language of permission is confusing, because so far nobody has said anything about what is or is not permissible. I don't think anyone is being censored or urged to stifle their speech, for instance. However, precisely because this topic can be extremely upsetting even for someone who is fortunate enough to never have been sexually victimized, there are certain conventions or considerations around the manner in which topics like this are discussed. I think the ostensibly slippery slope described in the quote above is not actually all that slippery; to me, anyway, there's a world of difference between "should someone who isn't the person involved here be adding jokes to her story?" and "this woman's story must not be real or worth listening to because there are jokes involved".

tulip-socks >

The stories I have to tell about my early life are not quite this horrific, but I do add a bit of 'this is the part where you're allowed to laugh,' or other things that sound joke-y. Not because I think any of it is funny but because I would either cry, melt from shame, or expect my listener needs some 'comic relief' from the heavy topic. I couldn't get through these stories without such literary devices.

I can certainly understand why you would do that. I am sorry that things happened to you which would give rise to the need for such considerations.

I'll be sure to avoid recounting my childhood horrors to you, since you express that what amounts to my tone is inappropriate.

I think there's a misunderstanding here. I was saying above that I wasn't sure how cool it would be for someone who didn't suffer the experiences recounted in the article to be inserting jokes in keeping with a house style that seems questionable (but not categorically wrong) for this story. I didn't mean to suggest that you, or anyone, but in this case specifically the woman who this happened to shouldn't, or isn't allowed to use humor in whatever way she feels comfortable with when talking about her own life, and you can tell that I didn't suggest that because in my comment upthread I mentioned several times that her right to speak about her own life is a totally different thing than commercial license that the author of the piece might take in the interest of fitting with that house style.

When you make a tone argument with a survivor of sexual assault, it suggests that your comfort is more important than the material presented. Thanks for clarifying your priorities.

I beg your pardon, but you have seriously misread or misunderstood what I wrote. The tone of this article, which was not written by the survivor of sexual assault in question, didn't seem to fit with the topic at hand -- which I admit is my own idiosyncratic reaction, but certainly not some kind of referendum on what you, a person I have never met, do in your own life, nor on how survivors themselves more generally should talk about their lives. That ill fit seems extra questionable since the jokey tone is exactly the same as it is in Cracked's other articles on radically different topics, and if they tried to write the article in such a way as to fit their house style rather than matching the article's style to the topic, that doesn't exactly imply to me a lot of respect for the survivor here either. Just to be clear, I personally feel and believe that survivors of sexual assault (like all survivors of trauma, for that matter) have an absolute moral right to be heard and listened to and taken seriously irrespective of how they choose to tell their story.

And I am dismayed by the fact that you leap so quickly to a needless and passive-aggressive implication about me as a person. That's really gratuitous, especially because it's based on a careless and inaccurate reading of what I said.
posted by clockzero at 4:25 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


As part of being a volunteer religious ed teacher, I have to have a background check and am a mandatory reporter if abuse is suspected. I am specifically told NOT to go to the parents, but to CPS. I may or may not tell details to the education leader, but I am not to discuss it with anyone else, because it does not need to be gossip around the church.

Not in that role, but two other times in my life, I've reported abuse to CPS. One based on observed (and truly blatant) neglect, one based on a kid saying things that no kid not sexually abused would be likely to say.

In both cases, I don't know if anything worthwhile happened. The families moved away, but I wish there was a way to know if their kids got out.
posted by emjaybee at 4:29 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.

I'm a survivor of abuse that was similar in a few ways at times, and I didn't have any problem with the tone. This article really got across how freaking mundane this kind of abuse can be. And I think that's helpful in terms of developing safety nets for children.

I also don't have a problem with people asking the question of whether there was sufficient gravitas. These are all good questions, whether we agree or not.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:31 PM on September 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


Jack O'Brien has done pretty amazing things with Cracked. Aside from the name it really has nothing to do with the former magazine.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:34 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I stand by it. I'm pretty purple with rage over the whole topic, so maybe my emotions are getting in the way.

But story telling and collaboration are tough enough without backseat drivers, and until the anonymous victim/writer/survivor makes any indication that she is upset about the tone, the tone argument feels like it's turning into concern trolling.

I'd prefer to trust that the person who shared this story read some cracked.com articles and made an informed decision to share with and through this particular outfit. I'm impressed with your willingness to imply or insist (I can't see straight enough to tell how strenuously you're defending this) that the author is being revictimized. But I'm inclined to verify that the types of things you're complaining about are in line with how I relate this information to people I trust with the depth of my past.

Can anyone point me to anyone who's felt cracked misrepresented or abused them in a collaboration?

I repeat: these kinds of things are things I say. It does not feel outside of my own reality.
posted by tulip-socks at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2014 [28 favorites]


Seems like jokes are fine if the survivor wanted them to be included, but questionable if she didn't, and we don't have any way of knowing which is the case.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:50 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


Good taste has no place in hell. [Sorry mods!]
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:00 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Mod note: A couple comments deleted. I get that it's a highly emotional topic but folks need to cool down. Maybe let's refocus on the content of the article rather than the "are the jokes ok" question.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:03 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


how about rather than talk about the jokes, we talk about the unbelievably disturbing content? unless that's actually just too hard to do, which is completely understandable. I just think that derail is shameful considering the crushing gravity of the story, regardless of what's sprinkled on top to make it more palatable for the cracked audience.

honestly all I can think after reading this is "Jesus fucking christ." Maybe I'm messed up, but I can't help but immediately think of the politics that enable this. it's libertarian end-game shit. You can't account for parents being monsters, but you can as a society provide help. She asked for it over and over and was rejected denied and disbelieved at every turn. Corruption and bleak indifference at every turn. Society failed this poor girl and it fails thousands more like her. FUCK.
posted by young_son at 5:06 PM on September 14, 2014 [16 favorites]


For me, the article hits at everything I see as wrong with humanity, and (I don't want to stay on this derail) the jokes just make it hit even harder, because they get past my defense mechanisms. I actually don't know what there is to say in response to something like this, beyond a deep guttural scream. Anyone want to join in?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is absolutely horrifying, and what I am depressed by the most is how no one helped her - Jane had to do everything herself to get out of the situation. There's something profoundly fucked up in that; children should not be put in those situations, and we should be able to protect them if they are, damnit!
posted by Deoridhe at 5:14 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is where I started outright screaming inside:

I am from a small town, and it was a "pretend not to see, don't tell" sort of thing. "She's his kid, he can do what he wants." Plus, I was a stepkid, so the idea was, "She wouldn't even have a daddy otherwise!" As if I should be grateful.

I can't really bring up anything else, anything coherent, every time I try I get tangled up in my own head.
posted by seyirci at 5:25 PM on September 14, 2014


Humor is a coping mechanism, and a fairly healthy one.

When things get too intense, our brains often tend to freeze up/shut down. Humor is one of the distancing devices that helps to allow us to address traumatic situations.
posted by ovvl at 5:34 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guarantee you, that every single person who reads this thread, or that article, knows or gods forbid, was a kid that was molested. You may not know who, because survivors learn to hide and cope very young, but while the vast majority aren't being sold, they are also unlikely to have been saved by any system that exists in the US.
posted by dejah420 at 5:51 PM on September 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am from a small town, and it was a "pretend not to see, don't tell" sort of thing. "She's his kid, he can do what he wants."

I'm in a small town right now, and prominent people (including members of the judiciary and the police force within the last few years) routinely make front page perp walks for child sexual abuse and child porn. So this kind of protection for abusers isn't a universal small town thing at all, but I can easily see how networks of family and connections could protect an abuser (and conversely, how the anonymity of a city could perform the same function).

As part of being a volunteer religious ed teacher, I have to have a background check and am a mandatory reporter if abuse is suspected. I am specifically told NOT to go to the parents, but to CPS.

I am not a mandatory reporter but this was my understanding. I wonder if the events in the story predate these rules or if the people involved chose to break the law?
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


> The tone of this article, which was not written by the survivor of sexual assault in question

The byline reads "Robert Evans, Anonymous". When you share the byline you share authorship. And it's written in the first person. Cracked would have been committing a serious breach of trust by including unwanted and unapproved material in an article written in the first person and bylined by the source -- even if it's "Anonymous", and I find it pretty improbable that they'd do any such thing here given their clear awareness of the sensitivity of the material.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:06 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm really glad that such stories are being told, by whatever means necessary.

There were a couple small things that stuck out to me. The first was the "people who abuse children sure seem to have a lot of money" bit. It called to mind all the content on the net about Highly Placed Pedophile Rings For Rich People With The Connections To Cover Them Up, which seem to veer into conspiracy theory territory very quickly but things like this make me think there's a reality there.

The other thing was the way that using certain kinds of kinkster terms was a standard code to signal actual sex slavery. I've been reading a bit of, i guess you'd call it "kink-critical" feminist material online lately and this certainly underscores the idea that "subculture of people who are really into make-believe terrible things" is sure a great place to hide for "people who are really into actual for real terrible things," and maybe that's a bit of a problem eh?

Anyway those are merely tangential thoughts about smaller points in the piece; the weight of the piece as a whole is so great I don't have a damn thing to say about i other than holy shit.
posted by edheil at 6:12 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]



I also don't have a problem with people asking the question of whether there was sufficient gravitas.


Remember the intended audience.

Cracked caters to dudebros, but they have a policy of not pandering to them. The price you pay for going to Cracked for your dudebro coffee break is the occasional article on something serious, where all the jokeyness stops being funny and switches to being a wry way to express anger. Maintaining the same listicle tone is their way of reminding the audience that the topic is just as real and mundane as anything else they're writing about.
posted by ocschwar at 6:15 PM on September 14, 2014 [9 favorites]


I wonder if the events in the story predate these rules or if the people involved chose to break the law?

When CPS is your cousin, and the police buy crack from your dad, does it really matter what the official policies are?
posted by ocschwar at 6:16 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


As part of being a volunteer religious ed teacher, I have to have a background check and am a mandatory reporter if abuse is suspected. I am specifically told NOT to go to the parents, but to CPS.

Reporting to CPS is usually mandated, but reporters are usually (always, as far as I know) allowed to talk to the parents, too. It's not always a great idea, because it can put the child at greater risk, but there are situations like family therapy where a therapist might want to talk about the abuse and about the report with the family, but it's usually more of a clinical decision.

The author writes that her cousin was the CPS worker and ignored the situation, so it sounds like there were reports made.
posted by jaguar at 6:18 PM on September 14, 2014


That is to say, reporting to CPS is legally mandatory, asking mandated reporters not to talk to the parents would be more of an institutional policy.
posted by jaguar at 6:20 PM on September 14, 2014


I am from a small town, and it was a "pretend not to see, don't tell" sort of thing.

I agree with seyirci, this part was the worst. I live in a small town, but in a lot of ways they're the absolute worst places to live as human beings. There is no dispassionate review of situations like this by the ostensible authorities. Everyone knows everyone else, and it's far too easy for people to stick their head in the sand to pretend a "good" person isn't an evil monster. And if the person is a local bigwig? Forget it.

Small towns are inherently conservative, and what is more conservative than "family values"? You have to be a total monster--or incredibly dim--to listen to a kid tell you about being raped by her parents and then bring the parents in the ask them if this is true. What the fuck do you expect the answer is going to be?

But "family" trumps all. To the point that being boned by your dad at age 7 is better than not having a father at all. I mean, what the fuck? What the fuck is wrong with everyone?

And when you have only one local cop, or a couple, and they're bad (as most US cops seem to be these days) you have zero options to go to the authorities.

If there is anyone in this story I want to find and stomp it's the mandatory reporters who basically threw up their hands and went back to playing solitaire on their computers rather than helping someone they are there to protect.

(I thought the tone and presentation is fine. If you're caught up in that, you missed the thing you were supposed to be concerned about.)
posted by maxwelton at 6:22 PM on September 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the cracked podcast often goes into how they hire trusted senior staff writers to collaborate with guests on these sorts of autobiographical pieces, and it seems like they take the process very seriously (also, for one thing, Jack O'Brien's pre-cracked career was as an ABC news producer, so he's not just an internet n00b playing "journalist," and for another thing this sort of story isn't their usual beat, so this looks to me a lot more like something they felt a human duty to talk about rather than something that was gonna draw in eyeballs for their monthly report or something.)
posted by Navelgazer at 6:25 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Jack O'Brien has done pretty amazing things with Cracked. Aside from the name it really has nothing to do with the former magazine.

Isn't David Wong the one responsible for the turnaround? The www.pointlesswasteoftime.com tone was very much the Cracked precursor.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:31 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Jack O'Brien was made EIC of the site from it's inception, and brought Jason Pargin/David Wong on pretty early, but I believe Pargin/Wong is primarily responsible for the tone of his own writing (though he often collaborates with special-knowledge writers in pieces like the one here.)

That's not to say that Wong's style didn't set the tone for the site, but O'Brien has always been in charge over there.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:44 PM on September 14, 2014


for another thing this sort of story isn't their usual beat

You should check the other links in this FPP. John Cheese is one of the pre-eminent commentators on poverty and addiction in America today, and there is a surprising depth and breadth to Robert Evans' personal-experience beat.
posted by Etrigan at 7:04 PM on September 14, 2014


Isn't David Wong the one responsible for the turnaround?

I wouldn't say it was much of a "turnaround" -- Cracked.com was always pretty distinct from Cracked-the-magazine, and Wong/Pargin came aboard less than a year after the website started.
posted by Etrigan at 7:07 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Etrigen: I've definitely read Cheese's and Evans' stuff. I know that Cracked does this sort of thing, but it's not what they're known for, and not what usually goes viral for them, I don't think. Also, as an obsessively regular reader of the site, I don't think I've ever come across anything nearly this devastating there. I basically dealt with roughly 2 hours of panic attack having just read it.

(And since all of my comments have been about the site, I'll say that this woman is phenomenal and brave, but that the bigger point is that nobody should have to be phenomenal in this situation, and that I have no idea how to fight human trafficking, but that a strong, iron-clad system of support and investigation when victims come forward needs to be in place everywhere.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2014


if that's what the person involved actually said, then it's not my place to say that the tone is all wrong.

There's this really common tic, when you have a really terrible story and for whatever reason you find yourself needing to repeat it a lot. When you get to the really fucked up part, you ALWAYS slide over to a joke. Just to make it a little less raw.

That closing sentence, in that paragraph, didn't surprise me at all or make me think there was anything fake about the account. That's, like, what you do, when it's time to talk about the really rough thing you realize you cannot in any way prepare your audience to hear.
posted by Sara C. at 7:17 PM on September 14, 2014 [9 favorites]


I thought it was hilarious. The line about the bingo card made me snort because that's the kind of dark humor that gets you through dealing with horrible stuff. This morning, I had a conversation about sex trafficking and legal assistance that included the lines "Yeah, you never go full retard" (from Tropic Thunder) and ended up wheezing with laughter with the other person on the phone, which was a moment of levity over a really horrible situation with accusations of abuse (probably true) and mental limitations (proven false already) by someone involved in cross-border trafficking. It made a break between feeling very angry and powerless, to being able to take a deep breath and say okay, this is bleak but life is life, what can we do to go forward. I think one of the funniest things in life is remembering that one dude who raped me as a child had a collection of jars full of his own boogers. When I think about that, I crack up because it reduces him to pathetic, instead of a fearsome monster. A jar full of boogers!

It was a great article, I hope the woman who wrote it goes on to write more with Cracked or on her own. I'd love to hear more about the recovery - the line about falling in love and looking back and realising that her college sweetheart was genuinely loving, hinted at a bittersweet moment, and the other lines about bracing for hits and wearing shapeless clothes etc.

Also - she would've ended up in foster care and her chances at recovering as a sexually abused kid in foster care are a roll of the dice. Predatory assholes seek out kids who have been abused because they are more vulnerable and easier to break.

Wow I'm bleak today.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:30 PM on September 14, 2014 [18 favorites]


Trigger warning indeed. Christ on a cracker. I'm going to have to go look at baby sloths now.

Among the other culprits (the pedophiles and the "mandated reporters" and system that failed to protect Jane) I wish Jane's "parents" a nice life in a North Korean labor camp. Cannibalistic hamsters would be better parents than the ones Jane had. We buy into this myth that all parents love their children "fiercely" and want the best for them. Needless to say, that isn't true. I wish there was something that could be done to prevent the Janes of the world from suffering.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:48 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I found their disturbed children article from their related articles interesting too, if you're wanting to compare writing.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:11 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought it was shocking and bewildering how people -- and eventually the writer herself -- would leverage her experience being exploited in one way to get her into a "better" (or more lucrative, or ostensibly freer) exploitative/abusive situation. Her parents leveraged their abuse of her as a child to get to the marriage cash-out, and then she leveraged her skills/knowledge from that to get into what she thought would be a better "ownership"/slave arrangement, and escaped that arrangement by sleeping with her boyfriend in front of the "owner," and is now apparently with that college boyfriend as his fiancee.

I'm not saying that her fiance is part of that abuse-ladder, because she says that they're in love. But how intertwined one link in that sex/exploitation/abuse chain is with the next does knock me back a step.
posted by rue72 at 8:14 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I loved both the article and the tone, in a holy-fuck-that-is-awful kind of way. If anything, the standard Cracked stockphotos punctuated the horror.

My favorite (?!) subtle moment of blackest-black-comedy was how her escape was facilitated by her second owner's demand that she finish college. Because an erudite, college-educated woman is a desirable status symbol. Look at the progress we've made with progressive attitudes like that!
posted by nicebookrack at 8:28 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


This topic is too loaded, I should've kept my trap shut. There's been a lot of mud slung and now I don't even know which fistfuls were aimed at me and which had nothing to do with me. I stand by my criticism that the wiseguy Cracked style can be awkward and forced when dealing with certain subjects, but criticizing this particular article was just waltzing right into a minefield. The tone of this article was just the latest example of something that's occasionally bugged me about Cracked for years, but generally I find a lot to admire on the site and I think it is a good thing this article was published.

I am resisting an overwhelming urge to get into my own history here, and the fact that the urge is so strong tells me that I am letting myself get at least as "triggered" as anybody else here and I should bow out before things get even worse.

I am not concern trolling and I'm not saying she shouldn't talk about this stuff and I am not saying the tone totally invalidates what she's saying. I am also not saying anything else about it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:08 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hello, friends!

I'm the Cracked author of that piece, "Jane" was my source. I verified her story primarily by speaking with her psychiatrist. She also emailed me some of her medical records, and I spoke with a therapist she's used as well.

The article was written based on a two hour interview, so quite a bit of the article is written exactly or close to exactly how she said it. Most of the jokes are mine. I understand it's a touchy thing to make comedy around, but my feeling has always been that humor is one of the few ways you can get a massive audience to actually sit through an article on such a terrible but important topic.

Jane was involved in every step of the editorial process. She approved the final draft, and we wouldn't have run anything she felt uncomfortable with or didn't feel was in good taste.

Thank you all for reading.
posted by RobertEvansCracked at 9:16 PM on September 14, 2014 [136 favorites]


This article made me want to sit in a room with every child that has been through this, listen to their stories, then look them in the eye and tell them it wasn't their fault. Tell them they are worthwhile human beings. Those poor kids.

I read in this article some serious dissociation which I am sure she had to do to stay sane in her situation. Morbid humor is most definitely a side effect of thinking like that.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:22 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hey, RobertEvansCracked, thanks for showing up to explain a bit about your process!
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:27 PM on September 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


If you look at the list of Mr. Evans' articles linked in the top post, you'll see that the "Robert Evans, Anonymous" byline pairing is a recurring thing. So it's not like he's new at this.

(Hi RobertEvansCracked. Hope you got your $5 back, and that we see you around the site in future.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:11 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


You have to be a total monster--or incredibly dim--to listen to a kid tell you about being raped by her parents and then bring the parents in the ask them if this is true. What the fuck do you expect the answer is going to be?

If anything the situation is worse than that. Most likely the reason the parents are contacted is because the adult they've talked to has already decided 100% the child is lying.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:42 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Hi RobertEvansCracked, thanks for coming by.

These have been an amazing series of articles; the format is genius. I hope the interest (both yours and the readers) stays high long enough that you can put out a compilation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:49 AM on September 15, 2014


I've known an unfortunately lot of child molestors. And as much as reading this, there was a part of me that jumped out of my body, turned into a wrath goddess and ran off to set the truly wicked on fire (perhaps in their dreams? one can hope through some strange metaphysics... perhaps?) the truth is so many of the most heinous abusers I've known were child victims themselves and/or got started molesting when THEY were children and it's harder for me to hold them accountable for those actions when they didn't -fully- have a developed sense of empathy and what they were doing.

Like what were Jane's parents childhood's like? Where do people who do these things come from? On the one hand, I think it is entirely possible and unfortunately likely that there are people who truly, willfully, decide that their sadism is more important than the welfare of child and relish the horrific things they are able to do and even the destruction it causes. It is entirely possible (and from research I've read on abusers reflects this) that there are people who willfully, not having been abused before, not because they are sorting through their own trauma or trying to deny how painful it was or get some power over their previous powerlessness or even remember some of the pleasurable aspects of their own abuse and have made themselves believe the whole thing was totally ok because of whatever parts of it were arousing and they made it through, so they can rationalize what they do to others as something ok or even "fun" to do to them; but because they are, in the sense the word was designed to use, willfully acting on evil.

It makes a difference because there are many things we can do to help people have healthy childhood environments, to help people have healthy brain functioning and emotions that er in tact- and those are things related to how we financially, emotionally, and educationally support families and their individual needs. As well as how we manage school environments, and occupational hazards and health promotion in the work place, and tailor society to individual needs rather than cram the individual into school or work situations that are causing harm. And of course to prevent the need for survival sex, having housing accommodations that feel safe and welcoming from a user perspective (people who are so mentally ill or on mind altering substances so they are screaming at everyone or talking nonsense are kind of scary and can be violent and currently we often stuff all homeless under the same roof (if indeed we even have a shelter) leaving very real possibilities of sexual or physical attacks or even just frightening verbal interactions that people who in vulnerable situations and need housing.

When I was working with homeless there were many who felt much safer on the streets than in some of the emergency housing programs, and I didn't feel safe at some of them either because people would scream at me while I passed by and I would see people screaming at or fighting with each other while there. A majority of homeless are not violent or dangerous, the problem is just a few people like that can make the whole environment feel really scary or even terrifying. Creating housing programs that have different levels of behavioral requirements will make it easier to serve people with different needs. (And housing first programs often make apartment living with privacy options much more possible).

But the message that someone's body exists to serve others sexual needs is so hard to undo, and so reinforced in the way we see the use of people's bodies for commercial sexual purpose throughout our culture (a majority of women's bodies being the dish to serve to everyone else, but there are men and boys this happens to also).

So I will come back to the fact that three of the child molestors I have known (all with reported incidences that went through the legal system but were recounted by the victim so nothing happened) got started by molesting their siblings.

So I think about a lot, the fact that kids, especially with an age difference-- we might think through letting them play alone together a lot. I mean, I think being curious about sex play is normal, and really really a large portion of kids will engage in genital oriented play with their siblings or friends. This is a thing that makes people queasy to talk about, but it's actually a pretty normal and healthy aspect of exploring these bodies we come in and the neat things they do, and genitals are pretty neat. I think age differences innately make what could be normal curiosity or play, innately unfair. And the power dynamic that might arise are not necessarily the fault of the children coming up with ideas that might be considered normal play with a same aged peer. Children do not have the ability to understand what they are doing, what the ethical implications are, or who could be harmed in what way.

But a kid who simply happens upon this dynamic where they get to do something they like more easily with someone who is vulnerable may cultivate a taste in it before they are old enough to understand what they are building a taste for. And I really do think many people may have the capacity to build the taste or interest but don't stumble on that dynamic with a younger person by reason of chance. And some people are just more horny and dominantly natured than others.

Which brings me to the fact that I think, as uncomfortable as it makes many adults, we need to be a lot more aware that kids are curious and interested in a lot more than we like to think- and they need education about the ethics of interacting with each other and our bodies before we might like to think. Also, even with education, children might not know how to handle urges or desires to be dominant with others that might come up for them, and we may need a better way to help middle and highschool aged kids get education about what to do if such feelings come up for them.

This brings up another problem with education which is that plenty of people who did not have an idea to do a certain thing, may find themselves wrestling MORE with it due to "educating" them about not doing it.

So I'm back to the fact that maybe more than a focus on educating kids, we might want to think through whether kids are capable of being entrusted with spending time alone with younger children.

It's of course possible that some people are just BORN THAT WAY, but I think everything we are learning about epigenetics, gene/environment interactions, personality disorders and their environmental correlates, brings us to a very complex dynamic of factors that are very responsive to the environment, and may involve multiple generations of variables playing into the cultivation of such instincts, behaviors, and desires. The reason it's important for us to face all of the environmental variables ( the physical, biological, cultural, emotional environmental exposures) across multiple generations is that it means we can't throw our hands up and say "who knows! genes! people just born that way, what you gonna do?!", at least not without choosing willful ignorance along the way. What's more, even once we all do our part to address all of those variables we can learn to address and understanding, there is still the possibilities of humans choosing to harm others, and we will have to figure out how to do better damage control for that then we are doing. But I highly suspect we could reduce the rates significantly by being willing to address all the multiples variables that influence this happening. Which means that we might would have more resources to spend on those we were unable to save - providing them housing, mentors, emotional support, and long term care if employment and daily functions are impaired.
posted by xarnop at 7:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


While I'm wracking my brain for any possible shred of anything that could ever make this better anywhere, I will add that my cousin had a habit of trying to put me in dangerous situations with the creepy guys she hung out with. When I was younger I hung out with you her and looked up to her and spent the night at her places on occasion to which only a few very creepy experiences taught me that her repeated use of the phrase "don't worry he won't do nothin to you" referring to men in the room meant quite the opposite and I have no doubt she knew that completely and totally except for that dissociation that can make one believe one's reality is not actually one's reality and the make believe needed for that. Hence, the crack/heroin/etc, which can help achieve that delusion and shut off the brains awareness of it's history and present.

And also, the knowledge of any harms one is causing to people right in front you. I am a huge fan of harm reduction, but I think people using hard drugs (which I think should be decriminalized but also supervised) should not be able to raise children the same as people using morphine should not be able to drive cars. I am all for addict parents being able to go into treatment with their children if needed, but I think the supervised living needs to be paid for and last much longer than we currently have (as in 5 OR MORE years of required supervised living if children are involved rather than a period of months or a year at most). If you are found to be an addict with children you can go into treatment with your child immediately or you can go back to your addiction and let your child be permanently adopted into a family that can prove itself not using crack. Granted there ARE issues of abuse in adoptive homes, and I think children should have a choice of leaving an adoptive home and living in a group home if they are unhappy there (they shouldn't even have to prove abuse or not, they should just be able to say it's not working and be able to choose a group home option).

I can remember, my male cousin (brother of lady cousin) had a girlfriend who had a child (who was born withdrawing from drugs) and she and my cousin were friends. When I went to visit once the little girl walked into the room (who I had met ONCE as a months old baby) and then literally ran into my arms for me to pick her up. The mother exclaimed "Wow she's not usually like that!" Yeah because she's around a bunch of terrifying people all the time. While my cousin and the girlfriend talked about their john's and where to score or whatever I sat on the couch with little girl and we played with my phone. I have huge concerns with the foster system as it it, but I also know that the foster system had been involved, and eventually she was placed under the authority of her grandmother instead of the addict mother.

I just know that girl was exposed to so much and it's so horrifying. And as much as we want to rage at addicts, we also have to remember that unexamined rage will lead to zero tolerance policies and punitive social treatment that drives addicts further underground and also prevents their children from getting services. I think rage can be transformed into fuel for good, but there's a specific process that has to be involved in doing so that involves more than just unleashing rage on anyone who might have messed up in any way that allowed these things to happen. And it involves remembering the value of compassion, understanding for factors that are not a person's fault in their behavior, and a willingness to focus less on fulfilling the rage and more on creating a protective supportive barrier around children. This can mean being willing to do things to parents that are hard to do, like remove children. It can mean putting people we like and don't want to hurt in jail or supervised living for a very long time.

Often we think the rage would help us do those things but instead it just leads us to divert accountability from people we love who have done horrible things because we don't want them to face the level of rage we feel about those behaviors. Because as much as we may feel the rage inside, or imagine it in fantasy-- most of us with in tact empathy don't really want to see anyone hurt, or make any more suffering in the world than already is. But I think there's a difference in transforming and making an angry rage-full force useful than entirely putting it out in favor of dispassioned policies, which also wind up not putting forth the level of passion and care for children's well being that is needed.
posted by xarnop at 9:47 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I verified her story primarily by speaking with her psychiatrist.

Seriously? What kind of psychiatrist is going to disclose anything about one of their patients to a writer?
posted by Flashman at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2014


One whom the patient has asked to cooperate with the patient's co-writer, perhaps.
posted by Etrigan at 6:24 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


One whom the patient has asked to cooperate with the patient's co-writer, perhaps.

And likely one who has talked extensively with their patient about whether the writing and publication of this piece would be re-traumatizing or empowering, and who respects their patient's choice to make her own decisions about her healing process.
posted by jaguar at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Also "verifying" might just mean handing the draft to the psychiatrist and asking if it is accurate, not having the psychiatrist divulge any additional information.
posted by lollusc at 1:01 AM on September 20, 2014


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