Many perceive Michael Jackson as the most tragic figure in his trial for child molestation. Even if this immensely talented performer ends up being acquitted, he has squandered his precious G-d-given gifts through profligate and selfish behavior, in the process destroying his life and his career. But Michael's reputation was in tatters well before the trial. In truth, the ones who have most suffered in this ugly spectacle are America's women and mothers.

Just when you thought that respect for women in our popular culture had reached its nadir, along comes a new stereotype: the mother as pimp. That is the conclusion one derives from the bone-chilling testimony of the mother of Michael's 1993 accuser, who testified about letting her son spend more than 30 nights with Michael Jackson as the singer showered her with gifts and cash.

Yes, she had her misgivings about allowing her son to share a bed repeatedly with a 34-year-old man. But every time a doubt arose, Michael would present her with another gift certificate to buy some dresses and the doubts would disappear.

Her testimony reinforces the most malevolent of modern female stereotypes: the woman devoid of maternal instinct, more interested in fame than in family, prizing money over marriage. Indeed, TV shows like "The Bachelor," books like "Queen Bees and Wannabees," and movies like "Mean Girls" portray women and girls as mean-spirited and narcissistic. They are cutthroats who go after each other with a viciousness that was once thought to be the province of men.

Even so, until now, no one had suggested that women have sunk so low that they would prostitute their own children in order to benefit from proximity to a superstar. But in revealing that she permitted her son to have unsupervised evenings with a superstar who had already been accused of pedophilia in exchange for material rewards, the mother of Michael's accuser has highlighted a frightening new sickness in the American soul.

In most criminal court cases there is a victim and a culprit, a party who is innocent and a party who is guilty. The Scott Peterson case is a classic example, with a guilty husband who murdered an innocent wife.

Not so in the Michael Jackson case. One of the reasons that this is the ugliest trial in memory is that everyone is guilty. Michael Jackson may be the one on trial for molestation, but equally culpable are the mothers who are testifying that Michael molested their children. Why did they allow their kids to be alone with an adult at night in his bedroom? Even if Michael is not a molester-and I pray that he is not-isn't the proper place for a child with his or her parents? Isn't the foremost role of a parent to be a guardian?

America has to wake up to the crisis of its own soullessness. The pursuit of money and celebrity has driven some Americans to use their own children as the means by which to obtain these rewards. In the past, we spoke of people being prepared to sell their souls to the devil in exchange for material benefit. But even one's soul was not as precious as one's children. Our kids were sacrosanct, and we protected them from our most evil impulses. Certainly, in certain cultures parents have given their children over to child prostitution. But this almost always happens in cultures where the parents are absolutely destitute and, in their mind, have no alternative. But prostituting your kids for a couple of dresses seems to be a first.

To be sure, the kids' fathers are equally to blame, and it is no coincidence that both of Michael's accusers come from broken homes where paternal supervision was either weak or nonexistent. But whereas the fathers in both these cases seemed to be highly negligent, the mothers apparently played an active role in allowing their sons to spend nights with Michael.

Then there is the issue of Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe, who in testimony this week alleged that she is being denied access to her two children, Prince Michael I and Paris, and that she had cooperated in a Fox TV documentary that was supportive of Michael in an effort to regain visitation with her kids. In the time that I was close to Michael Jackson, I consistently said that, whatever his other flaws, he seemed to me to be a very loving and devoted father. But that assessment must certainly change in light of his ex-wife's allegations.

Whenever I asked Michael about his former wife's lack of involvement with her two children, Michael consistently told me that it was Debbie Rowe's wish. The impression he gave me was that he felt it was better for the kids not to have their mother in their lives if such involvement was not voluntary.

But be that as it may, the public's perception of Debbie Rowe is going to be that she made some sort of financial deal with Michael Jackson to bear his children and give up her parental rights, which she now regrets. There have even been allegations in the media that Michael hired her as a surrogate. Whatever the truth of the allegations, and we dare not draw conclusions about Debbie Rowe (or Michael Jackson for that matter) until we have the facts, this can only further denigrate mothers in the public's perception.

Let me make it clear that I do not seek to judge the mothers in question. Lord knows, in their own mind they had their reasons and probably believed that nothing untoward would happen. The real indictment, however, is against a culture that is so corrupting its constituents that it is placing expensive clothing, jewelry, trips, and tickets to red-carpet events even above one's own children.

Is this really happening to American women? If even mothers are being ruined by the all-out pursuit of cash and fame, then who will rescue the men? Women have traditionally domesticated men, civilized them, taught them the lasting joys of family and children over the ephemeral pursuits of power and riches. But it seems that in our day women have allowed themselves to be so sullied by shallow values that they are becoming complicit in their own degradation as they run to take off their clothes in order to sell an album or get on TV.

Men are the ones who have fought wars over nothing more important than ego, and have decimated cultures and societies with their violence. Men are the ones who turn to pornography, and often prefer cheap sex to a real relationship. But this just underscores how important it is that women not raise men up, rather than aping their bad example.

We know that traditionally men were big consumers of smut. But should we not be shocked that tens of thousands of women are flinging themselves at the porn industry? I am well aware of the fact that throughout time many women have prostituted themselves for money. But surely we would expect more noble choices in an era where myriad respectable opportunities are open to women, as they are today.

American culture requires something redemptive to follow the degrading spectacle of the Michael Jackson trial. I believe that the most positive outcome would be a general recognition of the need to strengthen the family. We have to nurture the romantic bonds between husband and wife so that they not only do not end up divorced, but so that wives are not corrupted by the glow of the spotlight because of the loneliness they may be feeling in their relationships.

We must strengthen families so that fathers are present to guide and protect their children from bad influences and harmful situations. And we have to have two healthy parents who convey healthy values to their children, one of the principal ones being that in life one must always have the strength to resist the enticements of money and fame and instead choose integrity and good character.

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