Women who have been raped experience incredible trauma. Imagine a woman who becomes pregnant from the rape and decides to keep her baby anyway. Now, imagine that her rapist comes back and sues her for custody and/or visitation rights. Incredibly, that is legally possible in a number of states, but bills are passing in a couple of those states that would close that bizarre loophole.
Last year, kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro filed a request for visitation rights to the 6-year-old daughter of one of the three women he held captive as a sex slave for years. The judge denied the request, but it focused attention on the little-known possibility that a rapist could actually do that. People were appalled, and lawmakers worked to address the issue.
One of the lead sponsors of Ohio’s bill is Republican Senator Tom Patton, who was quoted by the Columbus Dispatch as saying that a rape victim who makes the hard choice of keeping her baby would still “face the constant danger that the rapist can seek parental rights over that child.”
Fellow Republicans and Democrat lawmakers agree. Ohio Senate bill 207 passed unanimously with bi-partisan support last week, and goes to the House in the fall. The Ohio Congress is on break for the summer.
The bill would still require the rapist to meet any financial obligations owed to the mother or child.
A similar proposed bill was recently passed by the New Hampshire legislature, according to the Washington Times. The new law, which was approved by lawmakers last week, makes it mandatory, not optional, for courts to terminate the parental rights of rapists if their victim files. The requirement would apply if the rapist is convicted or “if a fact-finding hearing determines the child was conceived as a result of sexual assault.”
New Hampshire House lawmakers sought to include a provision for these women to collect child support after parental rights where terminated, but the Senate refused to agree to the common-sense provision. In order to secure passage of the bill, that measure was dropped. Lawmakers hope to revisit the issue next session.
Sexual assault is far too common, and rapists leave a trail of devastation in their wake. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 32,000 women become pregnant each year from rape. Choices4Life is a non-profit organization founded by Juda Myers, who was herself conceived in rape, that is a wonderful resource for rape victims who become pregnant. The vision, according to the group’s website, is to:
“promote and restore honor and dignity to women and children of rape conception. We are hands on help both financially and emotionally for those who are in that group. The goal is to educate the world to the value of every human life conceived and to raise awareness of the multitudes living in shame from sexual abuse that isn’t their own. God has a greater plan than shame.”
The unique organization helps women who are sexual assault victims in a myriad of tangible ways, including helping financially with rent, clothes, baby needs, daycare, and medical bills. They have flown women to other states for safety. They work with law enforcement, schools, and the media.
The fight for rape victims is ongoing. A few states are picking up the banner to protect them from their rapists and absurd claims for custody of the rape-conceived children. But there are still many states who have yet to address this issue, either through neglect or will. That needs to change. Contact your legislators now and urge them to join the fight to protect sexual assault victims and their children from further trauma by their rapists. It is inconceivable that there should be loopholes allowing rapists to dare ask for custody rights. It is time for that to end. What say you?
[images via bing]