Okay, ready to be outraged?
Here’s the scenario: A woman says she has been raped. She makes a police report, undergoes the humiliating rape kit testing procedure and names the man she says sexually attacked her. Later she discovers she has become pregnant from that attack. The police may or may not have charged the suspect with a crime at this point, but the man’s lawyer is already hard at work. He does a little background digging on the woman and discovers there is a baby on the way.
Next step? The man sends word that he will assert his parental rights to be a part of the child’s life for the next 18 years unless the victim drops her criminal complaint and refuses to testify against him.
Imagine, 18 years during which this woman would be required to take the child to regular prison visits. Or if the man is never charged – which has happened far more often that the public realizes — she’s staring at 18 years of shared custody and face-to-face co-parenting with the man who raped her.
What should this woman do? Does she push forward and testify to spare society a rapist on the street – even if that will subject her child to 18 years of anxiety? A better question: Why is a victim put in this defensive position in the first place?
You might be wondering how many women find themselves in this situation. Well, the short answer is that no one really knows. The majority of rapes in the U.S. are not reported and there have only been a couple of decades-old studies done on the topic of rape and pregnancy. The findings varied – from about 17,000 to 32,000 rape pregnancies per year — with about a third of the women choosing to give birth.
Whatever the figure may be today even one rape victim coerced into an unwanted parental relationship with her rapist is one too many. So what are states doing to protect these women?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures nearly three dozen states and the District of Columbia currently allow courts to terminate or restrict the parental rights of rapists, but most of them require the man first be convicted. Exact information is hard to come, by but between 15 and 18 states have no laws in place to protect victims from their rapists who are seeking co-custody or visitation.
Remember Ariel Castro, that kidnapping creep in Cleveland who snatched young girls and held them captive for years in his boarded up home? After they escaped, while Castro was behind bars, he had the gall to ask for visitation rights with a 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of his victims! Even though Ohio requires a conviction before parental rights are taken away the judge in that case, Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo, had the good sense to deny Castro’s hideous request.
Bravo! And may judges across the land use their good judgement to decide these cases, no matter what the law is in their particular state.
There are thousands of rape pregnancy cases I could cite. One involved a 14-year-old girl in Massachusetts impregnated by her 20-year-old rapist. And, Shauna Prewitt, of Chicago is one of the rare victims to go public with her story. She was raped and impregnated during her senior year in college.
As she was pursing charges against the man he suddenly served her with papers demanding custody of Prewitt’s infant daughter. The ensuing court battle was a nightmare. Today Prewitt is a custody rights attorney in Chicago fighting for all states to pass legislation denying sexual predators parental rights. Prewitt acknowledges she has critics. especially those who fear wrongfully accused men could be denied their Constitutional rights.
“I’ll hear, ‘how do we know that a woman isn’t just going to cry rape in order to take custody rights away from a good man?’” Prewitt told the television program Inside Edition. “There are multiple answers to that. There’s always potential for people to abuse laws, but our country has never been afraid of passing a law because there’s the potential to abuse it,” Prewitt said.
On the federal level, the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act was passed and signed into law in May 2016. It awards money to states that enact legislation that benefits rape victims caught up in this awful cycle.
Yet some states continue to lag behind, stubbornly refusing to curb the rights of those who sexually prey on others, even when it can’t possibly be in the best interest of the child.
And, isn’t that what it is all about?