Mommy's boyfriend woes -- and ours
By David Reinhard Oregonian
Sunday, August 13, 2000
Let's play connect the dots. Today's game is not for the timid, but
makes the connection between two articles in last Thursday's Oregonian.
One was a short, back-page item, telling of a Portland man accused of
molesting three young girls -- ages 7, 9 and 11. Michael L. Rouse is
charged with more than 100 counts of child sex abuse. One count of
first-degree rape, seven counts of first-degree sodomy, 11 counts of
unlawful sexual penetration, 93 of sex abuse in the first degree -- the
list goes on. The three girls are the children of Rouse's girlfriend.
The other story was front-page Metro section news. It told of Frank
James Milligan's arrest in the July kidnapping and attempted murder
(throat-slashing ) of a 10-year-old Dallas boy. But it was some
background information that was noteworthy here. Later this month the
accused Milligan will be sentenced for sexually abusing an 11-year-old.
This kid was in foster care at the time, and Milligan, the story noted,
had become "a father figure" to him.
It's what John A. Barnes called "The Boyfriend Problem" in the Dec. 14,
1998 Weekly Standard.
Barnes was writing about the "depressingly large number" of cases in
which a young child is beaten -- often to death -- by his or her
mother's new boyfriend, live-in or new husband. He provides example
after ghastly example. "What is remarkable . . . is that they draw
almost no systematic attention (much less condemnation) from anyone in a
position of authority," Barnes writes. "In a country that obsesses over
the effect of secondhand smoke on its children, that worries incessantly
about 'at-risk' youngsters, and whose chief executive is wont to use
children's' welfare as a justification for any policy prescription . . .
this is a significant oversight."
He makes a strong case for the seriousness of the problem, citing
studies that show children are in far greater danger if an unrelated
adult male is in the house. (He states, of course, that in absolute
numbers far more kids are abused by their parents, since there are far
more biological parents raising their own kids.) But I don't think
Barnes went far enough.
As the Oregon examples above suggest, "The Boyfriend Problem" is about
more than boyfriends beating or killing their girlfriends' kids. It's
also about the sexual molestation and the enhanced opportunities for
sexual predators when mommy shacks up with a new guy or when kids have
no father but are desperate for "a father figure."
"This is a huge problem," says Amy Holmes Hehn, a senior deputy district
attorney in Multnomah County. "There are so many single mothers who
somehow find a boyfriend or new husband who is predatory."
In fact, according to Hehn and her colleague Charlene Woods, some of
these moms bring such men into their homes even when they know these men
have molested kids previously. Others move from one predator boyfriend
to the next, and their kids become serial molestation victims.
Woods and Hehn think all this results largely from the woman's
insecurities or lack of self-esteem, and a predator's uncanny ability to
spot these vulnerable single moms. Barnes, for his part, believes other
factors are at work, as well. One is our society's increasing acceptance
of cohabitation in place of marriage. Another is the sexual revolution's
devaluation of fatherhood.
"Fathers are not simply sperm banks or ATM machines, or pinch hitters
for when Mommy gets tired," Barnes writes. "Sadly, children's behavior
is often not lovable, except to those with a primal interest in seeing
their off-spring grow and flourish. In other words, one of the main
purposes of the nuclear family is to protect children from men who are
not their fathers."
Barnes is alluding to the violence that a boyfriend -- jealous of the
mom's attention and without the emotional ties to a child that might
help govern his actions -- can visit on some other man's child. But his
last sentences applies, as well, to sexual abuse.
Maybe it's time to start connecting the dots and mentioning the
unmentionable: Our "boyfriend problem."
David Reinhard, associate editor, can be reached at:
Or Phone: 503-221-8152
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This Page was created on 13th January, 2001