Our Daily Bread

The Body and Blood in the Sexual Exploitation of Children

By Karen Morris, LP, NCPsyA

The present paper was originally comprised of two individual and related presentations[1] that began with a dream, was shared as dream work and continued as a dialogue between siblings, one a psychoanalyst, the other a Roman Catholic priest. As a set-pair, each paper is reliant upon the other as they develop out of the relationship and life experiences of the authors whose individual papers explore their deep concerns about the global sexual exploitation of children, the increase in adult-child sexual tourism, the creation of child sex-tourism based economies and the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, through the lens of their unique professions and family histories. The authors would like to express their thanks to those friends and colleagues present at the initial presentation, who were so responsive and encouraging in the continuation of their project. For reasons beyond our control, only part 1 may be published here. This is written in gratitude to those sensitive and caring people, and in hope that others will step forward into action. 

Part I: Our Daily Bread

Karen Morris, LP, NCPsyA


Sexual trafficking of children and its affiliate industry child-sex tourism, are the fastest growing industries in the world today. They are inextricably linked to drug trafficking and the weapons industries, which in turn are reliant upon human trafficking, the world’s leading mega-industry, which provides for markets in slave labor, prostitution, child soldiering and personal slavery. It is estimated that well over 1.2 million children are kidnapped annually for the purposes of sexual trafficking to supply demands for children in markets here in the United States and abroad. In Great Britain alone it is estimated to be a $32 billion dollar industry. The ubiquity of the problem is reflected in the circumstances through which traffickers select their victims out of war zones and within areas of deep social unrest, making it impossible for statistics to reflect the actual numbers of persons taken annually. In situations such as these traffickers are free to prey upon those weakened by trauma, impoverishment and the breakdown of protective institutions including the family or governing bodies, which in most cases are now known to be complicit in the new world order of abduction and enslavement. The discrepancy between organized crime’s grasp on distressed populations around the world and a communities limited ability to fight back confronts us with the insurmountable rupture in social structures and long held social conventions, such as the protection of children. As an example of the scope of the problem, consider the remains of a five year old Nigerian boy found in the Thames River 10 years ago, who has only recently been identified as a child who was trafficked, then murdered. Of the millions trafficked 40% are said to be murdered, while survivors may be traded into smaller organized gangs for small fees, once a child becomes sickly and useless as a worker. In child brothels around the world, a child may be used for sex acts with up to 40 clients a day for the fee of 50 cents per client, most of which goes to the brothel owner.  It is said that government corruption is the driving factor behind the burgeoning trade in human beings. The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (ICMEC), 2002 conference titled “Creating a global agenda to combat child pornography” drafted this mission statement, “Believing that efforts to raise public awareness are needed to reduce consumer demand for the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, and believing further in the importance of strengthening global partnerships among all actors and of improving law enforcement at the national level.” Global agreements such as the ICMEC and the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (WCACSEC, Stockholm, 1999), which recognize the “significance of political will” as essential in combating the problem, also note that “whatever the rhetoric, the expression of that will is in most cases absent.” The algebraic equation this presents, between politics, law enforcement and organized crime, in which the absence of the will to protect equates directly to each missing, exploited child, does not satisfy the notion of ‘x’, which is at the heart of my reason for writing, concerning millions of boys and girls around the world— why are increasingly millions of adults having sex with children? Given the gross underestimation and inconsistency of statistics, I will be using psychoanalytic theory in a parallel process by looking at aspects of the Catholic Church’s scandalous cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, along with narratives from adult survivors who I have interviewed for this paper in order to shed light on what is occurring globally at an ever increasing rate.

Waking up to the world beyond

One morning this past spring I woke from a disturbing dream and immediately shared it as I often do by email, with my brother Stephen, a Catholic priest. The images and associations that came out of that dream work and discussion are the psychic seeds for this talk. On that morning I wrote,

“Dear Stephen, I had a dream this morning just before I woke, of a fiery volcano. A long line of citizens stretched from the horizon and snaked its way up the volcano. As they reached the top each citizen threw their baby into the mouth of the volcano. The line swept around the globe.”

In the dream work that followed I wrote, “I see people every single day pushing their strollers out into the traffic at cross walks while they wait safely on the curb with a fucking latte, cars whizzing by the terrified child. I have no doubt that they are trying to kill their children. This is real, not a dream, Today is the day. I’m going to write about this and kick some ass.”

“Dear Sis, Yesterday I drove 3 hours to a prison to visit the boy I told you about. 20 minutes before I got there “Lock down” had been called and they wouldn’t let me in to see him. . . I had a long drive back to think about your email in which you wrote “I’m gonna kick some ass”. Then I thought about your theme vis-à-vis the ultimate “kick ass” topic, which is of course beyond-all-imagination termination of pregnancies, and that half of all minority pregnancies in New York end in abortion. Talk about people throwing away their children. I heard a joke about 2 women talking at a fancy cocktail party, one was pregnant. The woman talking to her said “And what are you naming the little career spoiler?”

“Ha, Ha” I wrote back. “Sounds like a New Yorker cartoon. Humor is an effective way of dealing with our hatred and destructiveness. Look at the murderousness behind the joke, in which the woman makes the fetus the destroyer. What will mother’s retribution look like?”

His response, “This hatred of children you’re stepping into has far reaching tentacles. One could say, if the tiniest and weakest is most vulnerable and expendable, then no one is safe.”


It was at this point of realization at the truth of his statement, that I knew we were also talking about ourselves and the sexual abuse by a priest in our family, whose far reaching tentacles continue to invade our lives. That’s when I asked him to work on this project with me. I wrote, “I know your courageous heart will inspire me through the writing of this paper. Let’s kick some ass together.”

In recognition of this very special conjunctio, I’d like to begin the more formal aspects of this paper on global sexual exploitation of children with reference to a statement made by the Italian psychoanalyst Antonino Ferro in his book Seeds of Illness, Seeds of Recovery (2005). Ferro’s book is a fine clinical application of Bion’s theoretical formulations of alpha and beta functions in the formation of pathologies and the function of defenses in trauma and catastrophe. Bion’s conceptualization of alpha and beta processing are central to Ferro’s description of ensuing psychological processes in trauma. According to Bion, beta elements, or proto-emotions and proto-sense-impressions which constitute the raw material of our psychological lives, threaten to overwhelm capacities for alpha functioning, the processes through which emotions are transformed into thought and action. Referencing poetic processes, Ferro refers to alpha function as the “poetry of the mind”.  Regarding the activation of defenses and the disruption of thought processes in trauma, he states, “. . . trauma is occasioned by any situation that gives rise to more beta elements than can be transformed into alpha and then processed and woven into emotions and thoughts (p. 2).” While in the midst of this theoretically relevant explication on the trauma based seeds of pathology, Ferro seamlessly shifts to an extremely personal point of view, albeit within clinical conventions, in which he says, “Wars, oppression and racism are some of these mechanisms, the investigation of which does not, in my view, fall within the competence of a psychoanalyst—for in order for there to be a specific ‘analyst’, there must also be a specific ‘patient’ and a specific ‘setting’, and if one of these elements is lacking, the other two cannot exist either (p. 3).”[2]

I reject this convention and statements such as these as invalid when made by analysts who know the toll of psychological suffering in the victims of sexual trauma first hand, through their patient’s pathologies. Who alone knows as much about the realities of the patient’s world as the analyst who sees into the dark horror of what the child survived, and says “Yes, that really happened to you.”? It is a repudiation of both their knowledge and experience to say that psychoanalysis does not have a place in the world at large, beyond the formal dimensions of the relational dyad, where the perpetrators of children amass daily in the hundreds of thousands around the globe. As the old blues song says, “The devil is real,” as is the whole-wide-world, in which the consulting room is but a microcosm.

So as not to appear hyperbolic, I’ll begin with statistics from Ferro’s home country, Italy, known to be a country of destination as well as transit for the conservatively estimated millions of girls and boys who are trafficked there from all over Eastern Europe, including Albania, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. The cosmopolitan eastern coastal cities of Italy, considered a number one global destination for sexual tourism, that is, vacations focused on sex with children, attract tourists from all over the world. The demands of this market make it conveniently located for access to trafficking routes from southern and eastern points of origin in Asia and Africa. The Italian organization ‘End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking’ (ECPAT) has posted the following statistics on their website, “Italian men figure prominently in generating demand for sexual contacts with children abroad, as well as in Italy, thus contributing and fueling the market of child-sex tourism in destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia, Kenya, Brazil, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. According to estimates. . .80,000 Italians leave Italy every year for this type of illicit holiday.”

As an admirer of Ferro’s clinical work, I want to stress the divergence of the personal nature of his comment, in which he appears to be insensitive to his influence.  I find his rendition of the analyst and analysand adrift in the consulting room from the world at large, entirely out of date with this world. We are all too suggestible. Ferro’s use of Bion emphasizes the impact of trauma in which thinking, dreaming and other vital cognitive functions are destroyed. The travesty occurs within the disruption of links from one psychic system to the other. How then is it unthinkable to him, that theory can be dynamically impactful when applied to the identifiable catastrophic dimensions of traumatizing life in the world we share? Child survivors bring the real world with them into my office, and break the bleak isolation of the survivor in me. If the burning truths of my life dwell at the crossroads of the irreparable within my personal history, then I must use what I have learned from Bion and psychoanalysis to think more deeply into the irreparable on-goingness of world-wide travesties such as human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children, lest I fall more deeply into the voids of care and the evil grip of organized crime upon the world. We have never been more in need of the application of psychoanalysis to understand what is happening to our world. How is it then, that we do not apply our theories that are so proven in the clinical setting? What is inoperative in our own alpha functioning, rendering us inattentive, non-believing, or perhaps exclusively self involved?

I began writing this paper amidst two stories in the news that stood out amid the slaughter of the week’s other news, the tragic disappearance and murder of Leiby Kletzky, an eight year old Hasidic boy from Brooklyn, which was tantalizingly juxtaposed to the headline “Four Year Old Pageant Queen Gives Up Crown”.  This worrisome juxtaposition of news, jarringly suggests that our attention is deeply needed, for the one tragedy foretells the future of the other. Still, no journalist who wants to keep the paychecks flowing would dare pass over the grisly details of each story, the one recounting the crime scene and dismembered victim, the other, highlighting another sort of dismembering, about the harsh realities of life for the four year old beauty queen giving up her crown to risk a Hollywood career. The sensation based TV show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ highlights performances by toddler bathing beauties in g-strings and bikinis, as heavily made up as the 25 year old escorts on taxi cab billboards advertising gentleman’s clubs. It’s hard to say which of the images is more sickening, the beauty queen toddlers pushed to the limits of sexualization by their maniacal mothers, or the psychic representations of Leiby’s frozen, severed feet. Amidst the shock to the community that the crime was committed by “one of our own” rather than a “gentile,” the rabbi at Leiby’s memorial service stated, “This child was a sacrifice for our sins.” I try to think about what he means but I can’t think. It has taken me months to be able to form a thought about what he could mean by “our sins.” Does he mean the sins of his community or the world? Or does he mean his own personal sins or perhaps mine?  Something is happening in this statement to do with murder and trauma, but what? What is the rabbi’s need for a child to be sacrificed? The religious, biblical reference masks the fact that people, even from their “own kind” have perversions, mental illness, are pedophiles and even murder.

In trauma based transference modalities such as in the rabbi’s statement, or in the statements of our traumatized patients as they activate counter-trauma, a breakdown in the individuality of the patient and therapist can occur, into what Eric Rhode (1987) calls annihilating “single units” (Rhode, p. 32). Sensation based statements, such as the rabbi’s, materialize out of the matrix of experience as that which can not be denied, in metastasized beta bits such as Leiby’s feet. As opposed to being retraumatized, to be able to respond to our experience means to realize the fact of the world. It stands in stark contrast to Ferro’s dictum, as professional identity is superseded by that which is beyond moral, ethical or religious rights, as candlelight is by the sunrise. Recognition at this juncture suggests that we are already participating in the suffering around us.  It apprehends the prevailing conditions, which create the matrix of sexual exploitation of children on earth. The seeds of illness — greed, hatred and ignorance, have taken root in super-semination of our planet despite not all, but some of our wishes for safety for all beings. Illness spreads as is the nature of illness, but I’d like to acknowledge here as did Thoreau, the restorative power of faith in a seed, in this case the seeds of care and safety as protective, loving action, which knows no bounds.

My patient “Nora” comes to mind, a petite dancer in the sex industry who begins to hiccup painfully every time she starts to talk about work. She tells me about the ritual alcohol poisoning and rapes that her female co-workers brag about setting other girls up for, then photograph and post on-line. She wants out of the business and wants to apply to veterinary school, a desire which took a full year to formulate into words that could be sustained in her mouth. She cries every time she mentions animals. She starts to volunteer at an animal shelter and begins to feel the intolerable loneliness of her life. She attempts to quit her job and literally disappears within the year, leaving no trace. I see her face everywhere in ads for strip clubs and escort services. It is hard for me to stop imagining that terrible things have happened to her. That she is somewhere being kept in a cage.

Church and State: The Nirvana of no abiding place

There is a place for compassion and action in our profession but it means extending the ways in which we conceive of our consultation rooms as either extensions of our selves as single units or as places that are within the world as a whole, the world of dangerous objects and compassionate objects. This paradox of isolation and avoidance brings to mind one particular Buddhist treatise on the nature of suffering called “The Nirvana of no abiding place”. Very briefly, this teaching identifies the roots of human suffering as caused by our search for permanent states of being, which includes the avoidance of suffering. Freedom from suffering is found when we recognize the inherent nature of impermanence, out of which our compassion for all beings may arise.

For me this calls to mind a discussion of Sophocles’s play “Oedipus the King” by British anthropologist and psychoanalyst Eric Rhode in his paper “The Child Who Dies When We are Born” (1987). Rhode begins with the child in the state of learning to walk, the fundamental human faculty he sees as key to understanding the role of desire in the play and in our lives. Rhode links walking to curiosity, desire and sexual pleasure. He says, “Some things are prohibited because they are desirable; other things are desirable because they are prohibited. The child senses danger in thoughts of intruding into its parent’s bedroom. A muscular (often) sexualized pleasure in walking adds to its convictions. It may have trouble sorting out the dangers of intrusive thoughts from fears of being hurt (p. 44).” “Sorting out” here exemplifies Bion’s description of alpha and beta processes, the results of which are unique in each instance, dependant upon the child and upon who is in the bedroom.

Rhode continues with Sophocles’s play. “The question of being able to read signs or indications is a key to an understanding of the play. Oedipus is astute enough to solve the riddle. But it disables him in some way. Faced by his mother, he registers a blank. He cannot see that she is his mother. He misunderstands the meaning of his desire. A sign lights in him (falsely) saying ‘wife’, instead of ‘mother,’ or ‘the woman who tried to have me murdered.’” Rhode then refers to Freud’s case of “a small boy who looked into a mirror to reassure himself that his mother still existed. The boy assumed that if his reflection could be made to come and go, then his mother, who had gone away, would be able to return. The quality of my reflection in a mirror is bound up with the kind of internal mother I have.  Knowing who my mother is (and who she is not) is a condition for understanding appearances. She is a part of my history—a part of the structure out of which my history emerges (p.47).”

For some pleasure may only exist in the seeking out of the object, to forestall remembrance of what happened before or afterward. A minister of a church came to me for treatment for addiction to pornography. He would spend at times 12 hours a day, as if chained to his computer, splicing together bits of free online porn to create his own film in which no one ever reached climax, including himself. This was his own version of porn, not reliant upon “the money shot.” Indeed, he expressed pride in how he got away without paying a cent. For addicts, in their attempts to avoid suffering, the differences between real death and the death of experience, such as in the loss of the object or the loss of vitality, are indistinguishable. This point of recognition is central to the enactment of sacrifice during the sacrament of the Eucharistic in the Catholic mass, where the most profound mystery of the faith takes place known as transubstantiation[3], the changing of the bread and wine into the mystical body and blood of Christ. Paradox is essential to sacrifice and what is to be born out of it. In cases shared with me by the victims of priest’s sexual abuse, the projection of the perpetrator’s desire into the body of the child is always present and divisive. It is a desire which fails to register the separateness of beings at the boundary, which is often less than a membrane. This sentence swims in amplification of the liturgical enactment in which the divine mystery maintains the mystical body, the real body and blood of Christ as indistinguishable from the elemental bread and wine. One common script used by pedophile priests who abuse boys around the ages of 7 and 8, the age of the sacrament of First Holy Communion, is through the reversal of roles, in which the abuser creates confusion and dread in the child who is told that the devil has selected them out of all other children to tempt the priest. The child is then presented with the rationale that the devil knows how close to God the priest is. Then the child is asked, “so why did the devil pick you?”

Rhode states “Oedipus might argue that a belief in the need for accurate signs minimizes liberty of choice—but the existence of the sign is intrusive to the desires fulfillment.” The child who is sexually abused is literally bound, as was Oedipus, aka “Swollen Foot”, by his parents, and equally bound by the psychic binds of the perpetrator whose aim is to ensnare the child. To bind or to severe the feet, either enactment determines that the victim will never leave and the abductor will never be left.

The loss of the subject is inherent in this interplay of death and desire. There are no longer persons present. As Rhode said, “The meaning of desire is part of desire and not a part of the desired object (p. 46).” When a patient asks me, “How could a mother do this to her child?” my first thought is that the mother, or priest, or teacher, or sex tourist, is not in fact a person, they are the walking embodiment of desire, fueled by devouring greed, seeking an object to resuscitate them out of their emptiness. In the case of priest pedophiles I believe these emptiness states parallel forms of early liturgical experiences of deep mystery and faith through transubstantiation during the liturgy, but which later in spiritual crisis, fail to be recreated in the emptying aspects of spiritual development by the demands of repetition, lack of spiritual guidance and support for religious development. Spiritual impoverishment, a recognized state of development in many spiritual traditions, turns to crisis when it is experienced as overwhelming to an unformed personality. Forbidden libidinal ecstasy may supplant this loss in the choice of an “innocent” child as object, in which the fact of the perpetrator’s parents sexual lives, other babies, are not a possibility, thus keeping their actions and the dimensions of loss, unregistered and out of consciousness. Pedophiles act under an assumption that if they have sex with the desired object their greed for the object will at last be satisfied (p.60). And that their mother will return because they can see themselves in the mirror.

You, Me, Us: Do You Recognize the Signs?[4]

In Sophocles’s play each person plays his or her part in the proliferation of tragedy through infanticide, murder, suicide and alienation, which are the curse of generations. On a train ride home one night this summer, our train stopped at Yankee Stadium during a big game. I saw an odd young couple on the platform and wondered why the guy was holding a woman’s purse. I thought of him as being “pussy whipped” into having to hold his 16 year old girlfriend’s bag. I noticed she was extremely drunk and couldn’t stand up by herself. He wasn’t helping her though, but six feet away from each other it appeared a rope hung between them. He kept his gaze on her, barely interacting, somehow silently guiding and chastising her. She appeared to be trying to speak but could barely hold onto the trash container she was leaning into. As he guided her onto the train I heard her strain to get out the words, “Please. . .Please. . .Please.” He propped her up against the door, shouting “Stand up!” eager to get people engaged in the problem she presented him with. He said he didn’t know her, her bag still hanging from his arm. As she swayed back and forth trying to stay upright, he said he’d found this girl really drunk and felt bad for her. He said he left his friends with his expensive Yankee tickets to help her out so nothing would happen to her. Everyone on the train, including the conductor said what a great guy he was. The girl continued to garble, “please.” He began to outwardly flirt with an older woman sitting next to him. I overheard him tell her he works in a prison and that he’s known by his co-workers and friends as the “Good Samaritan.” At that remark I looked up and saw his face, which to me conveyed enormous pride, arrogance and shame. A lie was being perpetrated. After much doubt I realized that I was in fact not watching a good Samaritan in action but an abduction— he had all the power, her body and her bag, and with a train full of disinterested commuters as witnesses to his goodness, he could take her anywhere. It became clear to me that she was not drunk but immobilized by drugs. I approached him and said “Have you thought of contacting a third party like 911?” He shoved away my suggestion, lowered his eyes and said, “I got it under control.” I said, “You can’t have it under control—because you don’t really know what she’s taken. Maybe you should get someone to help you, like a third party.” “No,” he said again. “I got it under control.” I knew I was being erased for his own purposes and vowed to myself to call the MTA police when I got home to report an abduction. I’m happy to say the officer took me seriously and took a detailed description of the couple, promising me he would call in the report and have the train stopped and searched.

In the psychic movement of the pedophile from the death of experience to revival through desire for the object that cannot be sated, there is no place in which one may safely abide. There is belief only in repetition and the ubiquity of the death of experience to draw one in. The capacity to dream and to do dream work is evidence of alpha functioning at work. St. Francis of Assisi said, “The journey is essential to the dream.” As I take refuge in this place of no abiding the power of reversal manifests, as in dreams where the horrors of our circumstance may reverse to reveal the path out of harm’s way. This is my dream

The line of citizens extends from the mouth of the volcano to the horizon, around the world. From the top I pull each child out of the angry womb. I see this as a liturgical act, an act of transubstantiation, in which the volcano becomes the chalice through which I pass each child into the arms of a caring citizen. The line extends all the way to the end of the horizon. In my waking dream of ALPHAVILLE the line of citizens is us, denoting a path, a way in which to walk that is awake, democratic, and free from the spells of imperial, organized crime, Church and State.

For those interested in learning more about what you can do in the fight against child sexual slavery the following web-sites may be very inspiring. Do check out the amazing photography of the activist and artist Kay Chernush, whose courage, dedication and vision were the initial inspiration for this paper and presentation. Artworksforfreedom.orgKayChernush.orgemancipasia.org and stopmodernslavery.org


[1] Presented at the 22nd annual interdisciplinary conference of the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE) in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Nov. 11, 2011.

[2] Ferro (2011) restated this stance nearly verbatim in Avoiding Emotions, Living Emotions, amending it slightly with the justificative , “however, allow me to contradict myself. . .:I believe that macro-social phenomena have the same function of ‘stopping’ intolerable emotional states.”

[3] The tenet of transubstantiation has been hotly debated within the Catholic Church since the 13thc. Varying interpretations of its meaning as either metaphorical or mystical reality have been dividing points in the faith over which genocide and wars have been waged. The Catholic catechism provides the following definition based upon the Council of Trent (1545-1563) :”Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and his holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. (CCC1376)”

[4] This heading is inspired by the art work and anti-slavery activism of Kay Chernush, which can be seen at http://www.Artworksforfreedom.org


  • Ferro, A. (2005). Seeds of Illness, Seeds of Recovery. New Library/Routledge, London.
  • Ferro, A. (2011). Avoiding Emotions, Living Emotions. New Library, London. p.3.
  • Rhode, E. (1987). On Birth and Madness. Duckworth, London. 44-60.
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, http//www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/ _P41. HTM#1MH, August 14, 2012.

Karen Morris, LP, NCPsyA, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in NYC and Honesdale, PA and a poet. She is the recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis’ Gradiva Award (2010), for her article “Torture and Attachment: Conscience and the Analyst’s World-Seeing Eye” in which she traverses the traumatic dimensions of the professional ethos behind psychologists’ involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib prison, through the lens of classical Sufi poetry. The Gradiva Award is presented annually for the best published article to integrate the literary arts with psychoanalysis for the purpose of public education.

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