In case you thought we’ve moved from late-stage patriarchy to the last days of hospice, here’s one for you.
One would think if one was charged and convicted of rape, and a human life resulted from the crime, that one’s right to participate in the unintended life of said child would be terminated. That a person capable of coercing, drugging, manipulating, or otherwise non-consensually forcing his way into the innermost sanctified place of another’s body would be reason enough not to be considered a suitable and/or safe parent—but no; not in America.
Although the laws are changing, thanks to activists like Florida lawyer Analynn Megison and journalist Lisa Ling, we have a far way to go.
In 2021, is it still true that rapists whose acts result in the fathering of a child can claim parental rights—including visitation, custody, and even inheritance, while at the same time be absolved of paying for child support? Sadly, it is still true.
Here are examples of how the law works in various states:
First, the vast majority of rape and sexual assault cases never go to trial. Instead, they are settled by plea bargain. The accused pleads to a lesser charge, sparing the court expenses and, more mercifully, sparing the victim the onerous task of telling her story again and again and again. Notably, in a plea case, and often in a court case, the perpetrator never has to tell his story.
However, unless the parental rights laws are particularly progressive (such as Alaska’s and Colorado’s—neither of which require conviction of rape to terminate parental rights), the accused can ask for visits and be entitled to them under the law.
In a tiny minority of states—Kentucky, for example—parental rights are terminated upon conviction. In most other states, the victim has to hire a lawyer and pay court costs to terminate parental rights even though her assailant was convicted or pled guilty to the violent crime of rape or sexual assault resulting in the birth of a child.
Not only is this outrageous in and of itself, but it is even more unconscionable that a victim of rape or sexual assault must assume the burden of proof.
Astounding that the rapist isn’t the one who needs to go to court in order to prove he is willing and capable of being a good parent. In more than one case, the rapist won his case to terminate child support payments and dropped his custody request. These misogynistic laws are just one more opportunity to exert power and control over his victim.
So in states where rapists still get parental rights and request visitation, the victim of the rape has to deliver her child to the arms of her rapist until the age of consent—for 14 years or more—until the long arm of the law releases its grip. Fourteen years for the victim to be retraumatized and reminded of the violent act that resulted in the child, they are now helpless to protect.
And what should this mother tell her child?
“I’m going to be dropping you off to see this guy you have never met. He’s your father, and he raped me a few years ago. Now run off and have a good time. And be sure to thank him for any presents he gives you for Christmas.”
Here are examples of some of the best and worst states:
>> Best: Indiana, Alaska, Colorado.
The accusation (not conviction) of rape that has resulted in the birth of a child is considered Prima Facie evidence that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. The mother must file a petition with the court.
Kentucky (also in the worst category): Parental rights are automatically terminated with a conviction.
>> Worst: Alabama, Louisiana, Maine.
Requires conviction of rape in the first degree to terminate parental rights. In Maine, the rapist can petition to have rights reinstated.
Mostly they are in the worst category because they either require a conviction of the most serious sexual assault charges (rape or first-degree sexual assault) or because they have no provision at all to protect the mothers and the progeny of rape (Minnesota). An accusation without conviction or conviction on a lesser charge will leave the parental rights of the rapist intact.
You can forcibly create a child, but you’re not responsible. In other news of a misogynistic legal system, Alabama, Maine, Maryland, and Michigan allow the rapist to be absolved of paying child support if his parental rights are terminated. Why should he have to pay for this human life he created if he can’t so much as have a visit?
A common sign in shops suggests that we value merchandise more than we value human life: “If you break it, you buy it.” No conviction of a crime is required, and you don’t get the use of the broken merchandise.
Maybe we should say if you rape it, you pay for it—for 18 years.
Which brings up another question: what happens when visitation is granted?
First, the victim must have repeated contact, communication, and negotiation with her rapist. If a rapist is granted visitation, there is often an increasing amount of time and independence over time. It might start out with 30 minutes of supervised visits, gradually escalating over the years to unsupervised overnight visits.
What could possibly go wrong with this picture? A convicted or even accused sexual assaulter spending the night with a helpless child.
Pro-life groups go to court and claim to protect children born of rape. My answer to that: “No, they don’t.”
They only seem to care about their moralistic pro-life views. Once a child is born, they are nowhere to be seen. Not to advocate for children’s rights in cases such as these, not to advocate for better child care, better education, or more resources devoted to both fathers and mothers who are struggling financially under the financial pressures of being a parent.
I’m sure all the pro-life groups are all over this one, right?
They’re certainly present to manipulate and shame any woman who is pregnant and desperately seeking options. Often disguising themselves as abortion clinics, these Christian groups don’t mind stretching the truth here and there, saying that terminating pregnancy results in an increase in breast cancer—but they are noticeably absent once children are born to advocate to really protect children.
What can we do to improve this situation?
I always think of what would happen if women were in charge (and I’d love to see your comments in the comment section below).
What would it take to reverse the burden of proof in these cases of rape, sexual assault, and parental rights? For sure, not all rape cases are legit. We’ve heard instances of women accusing men of assault to get attention, revenge, power, or some other nefarious motivation.
But what if, for a start, in the case of a rape charge in which there was physical evidence, the accused had to give his version of the story?
Instead of the victim having to repeat her story dozens of times, what if the rapist had to repeat his story over and over? I would suggest something like this:
“So the camera shows that you entered her apartment at 12:01 am through the window. You left at 12:08 a.m. The rape kit shows evidence of your DNA in her body. Can you take me step-by-step through each detail?”
“You are asking to have visitation with the four-year-old child who is your biological child, a result of a sexual assault five years ago. Can you tell the court why you want to have this child in your life and what restitutions you will make to the mother for the burden of having to interact with you?”
“Have you paid for the pre and post-natal care, birth expenses, and court expenses she has incurred? Do you pay for pediatrician appointments? Have you apologized and made amends for the violent act you committed?”
“What will you tell your son/daughter about how they were conceived? What types of sex education will you provide for your child? What will you tell your son about misogyny and abuse of power, and how will you train your daughter to protect herself against people like you?”
“And until you can answer these questions in a way that makes sense to a jury of 12 women, you are denied visitation.”
This would be a good start, wouldn’t it?
For more information or to donate to protecting victims of rape, go to: www.rainn.org (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)