How Fatherlessness Impacts Early Sexual Activity, Teen Pregnancy, and Sexual Abuse

The pathologies and moral crises of our era do not stand in isolation. They are entwined, inextricably. The pound of flesh demanded by Shylock from Antonio in “The Merchant of Venice” could not be removed without the loss of Antonio’s blood. The veins of the victim, laced throughout his body, were impossible to segregate from the flesh itself. So it is with the intersecting layers of family life, human sexual behavior, public policy, and the well-being of our children.

Certainly among these layers, fatherhood is a theme that weaves throughout them with compelling frequency. Fatherlessness is one of the most important, albeit ignored, social issues of our time. Fathers are portrayed in popular entertainment as pseudo-morons, if they are shown at all. As comedian Stephen Colbert has observed, “America used to live by the motto ‘Father Knows Best.’ Now we’re lucky if ‘Father Knows He Has Children.’ We’ve become a nation of sperm donors and baby daddies.”

Yet fathers are essential to the well-being of their daughters. “Fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children … Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships,” writes Jeffrey Rosenberg and W. Bradford Wilcox in a report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children.” Rosenberg and Wilcox also note that, sadly, “children who live in father-absent homes often face higher risks of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect than children who live with their fathers.”

In the following, we document how the absence of fathers in the home promotes dangerous sexual behavior in minor girls and young women and makes them more susceptible to physical and sexual abuse.

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