Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fatherlessness and Vulnerability: Observations on Sandusky's Crimes

Many things go together. Ice cream and apple pie. Peanut butter and jelly.  Bacon and eggs.

Here’s another. The growing trends in unmarried childbirth and family disintegration go hand-in-hand with fatherlessness. As my recent posts on Isabel Sawhill’s op-ed highlight, the trends are alarming no matter where you are coming from in how you see it.

If you want the stats, you can go to the National Fatherhood Initiative’s webpage.  There is a lot of great information there.

I was thinking about this related to the story of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.  He’s the long-time assistant in the football program there who started a foundation to work with young males—and who just got convicted for sexually assaulting, abusing, and taking advantage of scores of teenage boys.  That’s all horrible.

One really sad part of this all jumped out at me from several of the news accounts. It’s about the young men that he preyed upon.  He went after vulnerable young men who already were disadvantaged; who did not have a caring, responsible, involved father or father-figure in their lives.

In a story in the Daily Beast, one reads:

Theirs was a three-year-long relationship, the young man told the court, encouraged by his mother as a way for him to have a male figure in his life. Staring at the floor with his one good eye, the witness said that physical, sexually-charged contact with Sandusky started almost immediately. 

The Daily Beast story noted of another victim:

Like most of the other accusers, the 25-year-old sergeant in the Army National Guard who took the stand with a close-cropped military haircut had no father in his life. When Sandusky showed interest by taking him to football games and family functions, he told the jury, “It was awesome. I loved it. He was like a father to me.” . . . With his head hanging and in a whispered tone he said, “I was enjoying the other things I was getting too much. I loved him.”

A story in the New York Times noted this fact:

A jury in Centre County Court convicted Sandusky, 68, of sexually assaulting 10 boys, all of them children from disadvantaged homes whom Sandusky, using his access to the university’s vaunted football program, had befriended and then repeatedly violated.

These stories made me profoundly sad for these young men and their obvious desires to connect with an older, trustworthy male. Older and male they got; trustworthy, not at all, and this doubtless added to the pain in their lives.  And these young men were the ones who could find the strength to come forward and testify in court. There are so many others touched by these dynamics even if never touched by Sandusky.

As I noted in my post some time back about the perfect storm, I do not see how these kinds of vulnerabilities cannot be accelerating throughout American society.  We’re going to need multiple strategies on many levels to even begin to cope with this new reality.  The dynamics are not new, but the percentage of those affected by them has to be skyrocketing.