Impregnated By Rape. And the Rapist Has Parental Rights.

Posted on September 27, 2012

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Among the comments on my article about Todd Akin’s rape remarks was this, from fellow blogger Kelly Cautillo:

“Is it true that the attacker still has parental rights if they choose to have it? This was something I heard, and was mortified…. it would be awful to think that a brave woman choosing to keep the child would then be forced to deal with her attacker again.”

Agreed.  And this week, exactly such a case has appeared in the press:  a young Massachusetts girl, impregnated by rape at age 14, never considered aborting the product of that rape.  Her words:

“Being Christian, the way I looked at it, the way I thought of it, this is a baby, an innocent person that didn’t do anything wrong.  Like, why should I take away that life?” she said.

The young girl had the baby and became a teen mom, an extremely difficult situation to be in at all – and especially considering that it was not her choice or her mistake, but was forced upon her by the crime of a rapist.

Three years have gone by, and now the rapist could obtain visitation rights.

What?

Yep.  In a series of really egregious legal decisions, the case was sent to family court for some incomprehensible reason, instead of criminal court.  What the hell was the judge thinking?  That this wasn’t really a rape?  Never mind that this then-20-year-old rapist threatened and assaulted an eighth-grader and got her pregnant.  Sure, family court makes total sense.

Then the rapist got 16 years probation – basically coinciding with the time the child will become an adult – and was ordered to pay child support.  To make matters worse, the child-support order opens the way for the rapist to have a legal relationship with the child.  Rapist becomes Daddy Dearest.   The teen victim could end up having to actually face this guy on a regular basis to arrange visits.  She might have to hand her baby over to the goon who assaulted her and threatened to turn her life upside down if she told anyone.

Can you imagine?  I previously wrote that a child of rape inextricably knits the victim to the attacker.  I didn’t grasp the half of it.

This could not possibly be a very common story, right?  Um, wrong.  Fully 31 states enable rapists to seek parental rights over the children resulting from their sexual assaults.  Curious, I set out to find a list of the states in question.*  What I kept finding was one story after another of impregnated rape victims dealing with hideous visitation orders giving rapists parental rights, as if they were baby-daddies and not sex offenders.  The other side of the coin was that rapists often use the threat of exercising their parental rights to keep the victim from pressing charges, which in turn drives down the statistics on just how often this really happens.

This isn’t even a “War on Women” issue; it is thoroughly bipartisan issue.  The 31 states that completely ignore this issue range from heavily Republican Utah to heavily Democratic New York.  So why does this glaring omission in the law exist in so many states?

Since experiencing this horror herself, Shauna Prewitt became a lawyer specializing in the subject and lobbying more states to enact laws severing rapists’ parental rights.  Her take, published in The Georgetown Law Journal  in 2009, argues that rape victims who choose to keep their rape-conceived children fall into a sort of black hole of social stereotyping:  those of us who have not studied this, or have not experienced it, may not be able to imagine any woman wanting to keep the child of her rape, nor do we imagine that a rapist would ever want to claim parental rights.  And yet, as we learned during the Todd Akin hubbub, more than 30% of impregnated rape victimsthat we know about – choose to keep the children.  Prewitt writes very eloquently of her own surprise at the feelings she had – has – for the child.  Her child.

How ironic.  Conservatives should do all they can to protect the women who choose life out of such nightmarish circumstances.  Liberals should do all they can to keep sex offenders out of the lives of their victims and away from children.  And yet… in all of these 31 states, liberal and conservative, this simple omission magnifies the misery of rape victims and their children as well, and even endangers them, through a supremely ridiculous, offensive and outrageous legal situation:  that a rapist who used his penis as a weapon of assault and domination, to humiliate and subjugate his victim, gets the exact same parental rights as a consensual partner.  I can’t think of very many worse things.

*For a map of the states and their legal provisions, see this excellent article in Mother Jones.

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