Should Rapists be allowed to seek parental rights?

petra_gwAugust 24, 2012

I had no idea the majority of US states give parental rights to rapists who fathered a child through rape.

Raped, pregnant and ordeal not over

By Shauna Prewitt, Special to CNN

updated 12:12 PM EDT, Wed August 22, 2012

Shauna Prewitt had a baby conceived in a rape and faced another unexpected ordeal

Prewitt found the majority of states give parental rights to men who father through rape

She became a lawyer to fight this practice and encourage states to make this illegal

She says many women who are raped become pregnant and give birth

Editor's note: Shauna R. Prewitt is a lawyer in Chicago. She is the author of "Giving Birth to a 'Rapist's Child': A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape," written for the Georgetown Law Journal.

Chicago, Illinois (CNN) -- When I was in law school, my criminal law professor introduced us to the crime of rape by reading us a quote from Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century English jurist: "In a rape case it is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial."

It was not merely a history lesson. I had lived it.

While a student in my final year of college, at age 21, I was raped. I have dissected that moment -- the horrifying moment that I became a "victim" -- from every possible angle. I have poked and prodded, examined and re-examined. Regrettably, I have even suspected myself in a desperate, ultimately futile attempt to understand how I became a victim.

But blaming myself was neither my idea nor my first inclination. I thought such 17th-century notions were long dead. I was wrong. People who did not even know me were quick to comment or speculate on my rape. What were you wearing? Did you scream loudly? Did this occur in public?

As my history lesson said, I found myself on trial, facing the most fierce judge and jury: ignorance.

Eight years after my rape, I find myself on trial against ignorance again. Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy not only flout scientific fact but, for me, cut deeper. Akin has de-legitimized my rape.

You see, nine months after my rape, I gave birth to a beautiful little girl. You could say she was conceived in rape; she was. But she is also so much more than her beginnings. I blissfully believed that after I finally had decided to give birth to and to raise my daughter, life would be all roses and endless days at the playground. I was wrong again.

It would not be long before I would learn firsthand that in the vast majority of states -- 31 -- men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy. When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.

When faced with the choice between a lifetime tethered to her rapist or meaningful legal redress, the answer may be easy, but it is not painless. For the sake of her child, the woman will sacrifice her need to see her once immensely powerful perpetrator humbled by the court.

I know it because I lived it. I went to law school to learn how to stop it.

Having fought this injustice for the past several years, I have come to believe that ignorance is to blame for this legal absence. Opponents argue no woman would ever choose to raise the child she conceived through rape. The only two studies to analyze the choices made by pregnant raped women indicate otherwise -- at least 30% of women who conceive by rape make this choice.

Others argue that no rapist would ever seek parental rights. Not only does my experience and that of others I know prove otherwise, but it is not surprising that a man who cruelly degrades a woman would also seek to torture her in an even more agonizing way, by seeking access to her child.

Today, it seems we may face a new and unbelievable challenge: convincing legislators that women can conceive when they are raped.

Make no mistake, my efforts and the efforts of others to persuade legislators to pass laws restricting the parental rights of men who father through rape will be directly impacted by Akin's recent comments. Whether these efforts will be helped or hurt, however, depends upon us as a society.

Either we will fight ignorance and take steps to legislate for raped women based upon reason and facts, or we will be led by ignorance and continue to make bad laws. Or fail to make good ones.

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I read that yesterday and read the comments to it (which was on the CNN webiste). Some are what should be unbellievable, but typical for the cretins that inhabit this country. Many didn't believe her, thought her pregnancy was the result of having second thoughts about sex with her boyfriend, etc.. She and others who have been raped are still being tried by ignorance or mysoginism. It's still the victim's fault if she is raped. So, to those people, of course, the rapist should have parental rights. Unfortunately, a lot of those people are making the laws.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:33PM
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I did not know that either until I read that same story yesterday. It is really amazing that that could happen. Sickening. Hopefully, the attention brought to this matter by that creep Akin will bring about a change for the better. Probably not what Akin thought would happen!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:35PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

It's sad that the law is like this, but since it is, I would advise any woman who keeps a baby which is the result of a rape to never list the rapist as the father, never admit it, and never acknowledge the pregnancy as a result of the rape.

Rape is a crime in itself. The fact that you got pregnant from the rape does not get the rapist a harsher sentence so there is no reason to tie the pregnancy to the rape.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:43PM
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No, absolutely not.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:47PM
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This is just insane and I wonder what other implications there are. Can the rapist be compelled to pay child support once he is out of prison, can he sue the mother for custody, etc. Normally I would think no one would award a rapist custody of a child, but with the attitude of so many that any woman who is raped provoked the rape or "asked for it", I am not so sure any more.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 5:26PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

Can the rapist be compelled to pay child support once he is out of prison,

In my opinion, trying to get child support out of that kind of low life is difficult. For one, try getting child support payments from people who are imprisoned. Plus, prisoners can have their child support obligations suspended while they are in prison.

After they get out, good luck. Child support is based on income. With no income, or income/assets being hidden, child support is a token amount. I've heard of ten dollars a month... now seriously, who can raise a child on ten dollars a month?

And for all that, you are forced to be tethered to your rapist until that child is eighteen.

Until the laws are changed to refect justice instead of some twisted interpretation of rights, me opinion is that women will have to never acknowledge the pregnancy as a result of the rape.

And this one is just my own personal preference, but I would rather let my child believe he/she was the result of a one night stand with some unknown man than the result of a rape. I don't know what kind of burden that would place on my child and I would rather not let them experience that feeling.

Some people may choose differently.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 6:23PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Child support is separate from the rights to enforce co-parent. You do not have to contribute a dime to have your enforce rights to see your child.

If the rapist gets off he can claim it as his child even if the mother denies it is his. He can sue with a free attorney and the mother will be forced to submit the child to have a paternity test.

The sentence for rape is not 18 yrs. What does the mother do when he gets out of jail? This is the worst situation I can imagine happening to a woman. She can be raped over and over if she decides to keep the child or is forced to keep the child.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 8:21PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

You do not have to contribute a dime to have your enforce rights to see your child.

Exactly my point. She likely won't get any financial help, yet by initiating the process of proving it is his child, she will become tethered to him for the next 18 years.

If the rapist gets off he can claim it as his child even if the mother denies it is his.

The fact that the woman is pregnant will not be obvious for months. In most cases, she won't even know she is pregnant until long after the man is charged.

When it does become obvious, the timing usually doesn't connect for most people. And it would be a longshot that she would even be forced to take a paternity test after the baby is born.

Basic point... if the rapist doesn't know she is pregnant, it is highly unlikely he will ask for a paternity test on a non-existent baby.

if she decides to keep the child or is forced to keep the child.

Well, let's hope that she won't be forced to keep the child. Let's also hope the laws change concerning parental rights if she chooses to keep the child.

But until that time, I think it would be prudent on her part to avoid indicating the pregnancy is in any way connected to the rape... or even giving the courts any indication she is even pregnant.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:22PM
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The male in this case (the rapist) is merely excercising his property rights. This is the logical* consequence in this line of thinking. It just takes Akin's meme a step further.

*Feel free to draw quote marks in the air when reading this word.

As to Petra's question: No way.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 12:57AM
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marquest(z5 PA)

hamilton, that is not our law. If the woman file charges. The hearing will not be the next day. It could be 3 to 4 months before it comes up for a hearing. Many women start to show at that time.

Half his battle is won she has filed rape. From date of rape to birth is not a hard thing to figure out.

Just as if he does not have money for defense for the rape charges he would get a public defender we also have public defender if he wants to claim the child and can force her to have a paternity test if she denies it is his child.

It is the law. The right to have an abortion is in the process of being taken away. The woman would have no rights. The male has a right to claim parental rights regardless of how she was impregnated. That is the law that needs to be changed.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:14AM
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I agree with HG, obviously do not acknowledge the rapist as the father. I doubt whether his "rights" go so far as being able to force a DNA test.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 7:12AM
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If some guy feels he has the right to force himself on me, unwanted, assaulting me through the act of rape, I think he just gave up any other rights he may have had.

Not that he'd get that far, but in case he did, there's no law that says I have to tell him anything... and I'm heading off to the nearest place or state or country that does allow for abortion.

Call me cruel, but I just don't think I could carry and raise the product of an assault and rape... if a guy could actually complete the task/assault.

Yeah, Maddie... I found the way Akin worded that just a little bit too creepy.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:23AM
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