Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments are soup du jour in the news lately, but an even scarier and less-discussed truth about rape exists in America today: the fact that there are many US states which allow alleged rapists to apply for parental rights over children conceived by sexual assault.
Dana Liebelson and Sydney Brownstone expose the medieval-sounding law in a column at Mother Jones. “Imagine you were raped, got pregnant, then your rapist sought custody,” they write. Sounds crazy, but a legal path to further victimization exists in at least 27 states. Though Akin’s remarks and the surrounding controversy can be traced to abortion in cases of rape, some women in fact choose to give birth to a child conceived through sexual assault. The problem with such a sacrificial move is that the rapist can then challenge his victim for parental rights.
The column tells the story of Shauna Prewitt, who was raped in Akin’s home state of Missouri in 2004. Nine moths after the assault, she gave birth to a baby girl, who is almost 8-years-old today. Prewitt was pursuing charges against her accused rapist shortly after the birth of her daughter, but was surprised when she was suddenly served custody papers from the man who victimized her.
“I was struck with terror, not only with the idea of letting my child be around him, but also having to spend the next 18 years of my life tied to him,” she says.
Legal groundwork is laid for the same type of story in at least 27 states, including Arizona, Minnesota, New York, and Mississippi. Laws in those states offer no protection for mothers and children conceived by rape. Some states, like Maryland and Missouri, managed to pass laws that remedy this, and others have partial laws in place (for instance, a mother can be protected if her rapist is convicted).
“Part of the problem is that many rapes go un-prosecuted,” write Libelson and Brownstone. “Only 9 out of every 100 rapes are prosecuted and just 5 lead to a felony conviction,” they say.