A young woman who worked in a newspaper once shared the story of her childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic, recalling how she was aware when her parent was too drunk to drive and how she sensed she was unsafe at a very early age.
At the time, I was working in Maryland where Mothers Against Drunk Driving was pushing the legal blood alcohol content down to 0.08 percent as the threshold for driving under the influence.
I know it sounds dumb now, but until then, I had always framed the problem with drunken driving in terms of the safety of other drivers on the road, the drunken drivers themselves or adult passengers in the drinker’s car, who probably should have known enough to take the keys away or at least not get in the vehicle.
Maybe those notions came from Public Service Announcements, few of which showed DUI through the eyes of a child, age 12 or 8 or 5.
What do you do when your parents are the danger to your health? The answer to that seems complicated, or at least unsatisfactory.
Earlier this week, reporter Francis Scarcella wrote a story about Adam Vigo, 37, facing multiple charges relating to accusations that he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl, including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault of a child, endangering a child’s welfare and more, over a period of four years. Vigo was listed as the child’s caretaker.
Deeper in the same edition, reporter Ashley M. Wislock reported on Charles Hollenbach, arrested and charged in connection with sexual assault on a 5-year-old girl on “more than one occasion.” In that story, Ashley Wislock recounted two other child sexual assault cases in recent weeks. Minors in the other cases were ages 14 and 16.
If you think “what wretched individuals the accused must be,” many would agree. That is often true. We convict them, jail them and list them. We do that again to the next ones.
Last week, George Will’s Sunday column bemoaned family disintegration, relating that “41 percent of American children are born to unmarried women, including nearly half of first births, 53 percent of Hispanic children and 72 percent of African American children.”
This growing trend increases the probability of unrelated adult males being invited into a household with minor children, which automatically increases the odds of more creeps having access to unprotected children.
Lawmakers and political candidates chant well-rehearsed statistics and talking points about family values as they preach to the choir. People who agree don’t need the sermons. That is just dog whistle politics to distinguish “us” from “them”.
In order to extol the virtues of family values, it helps to have a family. A sexual liaison with somebody’s mother does not form a family. Give mom a scarlet letter. Give the boyfriend a ride to jail. We get it.
But what about the children? What about food, shelter, instruction, security, safety and, maybe, some kind of appropriate affection for them?
A little while ago, a letter circulated from a person in our community whose childhood took shape in the kind of world that makes headlines. She wrote knowingly and tellingly about it, saying: “Here is the problem: children who want help and try to get it are taught several things: You won’t be believed. It will make the situation worse. You will be given to a foster family (everyone has heard the horror stories and so they fear this). You will be placed in a group home (seen as worse than foster families). It’s a family problem you don’t tell anyone. You will pay for telling the truth.”
For the child, society’s solutions must sometimes seem worse than the problem. “We told your drill sergeant you think he is bullying you. What else could you possibly need?”
Perhaps it is time to convert the state school near Selinsgrove into a modern rescue sanctuary for children of failed families, where their biological originators may visit and observe as the children live in peace and protection, maturing and learning values that will deliver them and their own eventual children from circumstances no child should endure.
Are we there yet? Some of us are.
Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.