Cause of Death: No Father

Most children born to American women under thirty are now born out of wedlock, even though studies show that their children are more likely to experience poverty and other negative consequences as a result.  Studies also indicate that children raised in non-traditional homes are more likely to commit crimes and suffer abuse than children raised in traditional homes.  A series of incidents over the last few weeks illustrate this sad fact, and suggest that such children may also be more vulnerable to violence outside the home.

On Feb. 8, 18-year-old Alyssa Bustamante was sentenced to life in prison for the 2009 murder of her neighbor Elizabeth Olten, aged nine.  Olten's mother, Patty Preiss, called Bustamante "an evil monster," and her crime was monstrous.  Yet the teenage murderer is herself a victim.  Bustamente was abandoned by both of her parents, and she was raised by her grandmother.  She attempted suicide two years before killing Olten. 

Bustamante's victim, Elizabeth Olten, also grew up in a non-traditional home: her parents were not married, and her father was in prison when she was murdered.  Was the fact that Olten's father was not present a factor in Bustamante selecting her as her victim? 

On Feb. 17, nine-year-old Savanna Hardin allegedly was forced by her grandmother and stepmother to run for hours until she collapsed and died.  Her father, Robert Hardin, worked outside the country while his second wife and his mother raised his daughter.  Would Savanna Hardin be dead if her father had been present?  The most recent National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect reports that children living with two married biological parents are at the lowest risk of suffering abuse, eight times less likely than children living with one parent and an unmarried partner.  (The perpetrator is typically the person who is not related to the victim and not the biological parent, as some have mistakenly supposed.)

On Feb. 22, eight-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman was accidentally shot after a boy in her class brought a gun to school.  The boy's parents were not married, and he was raised by his grandmother until her death last year, when his uncle assumed custody.  Would Kocer-Bowman be struggling for her life if this boy had grown up in a stable, two-parent home?  

On Feb. 24, eleven-year-old Joanna Ramos died after a fight (allegedly over a boy) with a classmate at her elementary school.  Ramos was raised by her mother and stepfather, and her father, Israel Ramos, lives in Mexico.  Would this girl be dead if she had known the love of her own present father? 

The list goes on.  On Feb. 26, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, who lived with his mother, Sybrina Fulton, was shot to death while visiting his father and his father's girlfriend in Sanford, Florida.  On Feb. 27, T.J. Lane, an Ohio high school student, allegedly shot five other students, killing three.  Lane's parents never married, and he had lived with his grandparents since 2009.  On March 1, seventeen-year-old Chris Wormely was stabbed to death by a classmate at a therapeutic day school in Chicago.  The victim was raised by his mother, Charmayne Price, and there is no indication that he had a father in his life.  On March 11, police found the body of fifteen-year-old Anne Grace Kasprzak, who was allegedly murdered by an older man when she refused to have sex with him.  Kasprzak was adopted out of foster care, and her adoptive parents later divorced.  On March 16, fifteen-year-old Sierra LaMar disappeared on her way to school in Morgan Hills, California, five months after moving there following her parents' divorce.  Would these tragedies have occurred if Martin, Lane, Wormely, Kasprzak, and LaMar had lived with their fathers in traditional, two-parent homes?

Nor is the vulnerability of children from broken homes limited to the United States.  On March 4, Mario Albanese shot to death his ex-wife and her daughter from a previous marriage in northern Italy.  On March 14, Terry-Lynne McClintic testified against her ex-boyfriend as he stood trial in Ontario, Canada for the 2009 rape and murder of nine-year-old Victoria "Tori" Stafford.  The victim's mother, Tara McDonald, previously testified that she and her boyfriend had twice bought drugs from McClintic.  Would these children be dead if they had lived in intact homes?

Many children who grow up in non-traditional homes will not suffer violence, and children who grow up in non-traditional homes are not the only ones who commit violent crimes.  Yet non-traditional home life increases the likelihood that children will suffer and inflict crimes like these, and a caring society must do everything it can to restrain and protect them. 

It is unlikely, though, that society will ever be able to replace the essential role of men as fathers who protect, love, and discipline their children.  Our only hope lies in returning to the norm of intact, traditional homes, and that will happen only when we begin to notice how many apparently random crimes can be traced back to the family structure of the suffering children who perpetrate them.

Michael Iachetta teaches American Government at Richland College.  The opinions here expressed are his and do not represent the views of the college.