Not news, but worth discussing: an article on CNN, “‘I have to text my rapist’: Victims forced to parent with attackers.”
Exact stats aren’t tracked, but there are an estimated 17,000 to 32,000 rape-related pregnancies in the United States each year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
About 32% to 50% of impregnated rape victims keep their babies, according to various studies.
In North Dakota, Minnesota, Maryland, Wyoming, New Mexico, Mississippi and Alabama, there are no specific laws prohibiting rapists from having parental rights for the children resulting from those attacks. In a further 21 states, individuals criminally convicted of rape lose their parental rights, but those not convicted, or who, via plea bargaining, are convicted of a lesser charge, do not. And,
In some of those [remaining] states, [a woman’s] attacker could be blocked from visiting her [child] if there was “clear and convincing evidence” that he raped her — no conviction of first-degree sexual assault necessary.
Laws with this clear and convincing evidence standard allow termination of parental rights if evidence is presented in family court that the father committed sexual assault during conception of the child.
A family court judge would rule if the evidence was “clear and convincing” under civil law. For example, this could include witness testimony that the defendant committed rape, as long as the defendant didn’t have a solid alibi.
CNN profiles one women trapped in the position of having to provide visitation to the man who raped her, because he plea-bargained the conviction down to a lesser charge — which not only means leaving a child in the care of such a person, but also needing to interact with him herself. And the article offers as an explanation for the current state of affairs, the widespread presumption that pretty much all women who are raped get abortions, so that it’s a non-issue. Finally, the article addresses the question of men who, after the attack, are genuinely repentant: the experts that the article cites agree that such a case is a difficult one, but that the question of harm to the mother is more important, and a truly remorseful man should accept this.
So what do you make of all this?
Some of this seems pretty obvious: an individual who is convicted of rape should not be able to actively parent the resulting child, possibly with the exception of a case of (unambiguously uncoerced) consent of the mother. An individual who plea-bargains down to a lesser charge should be required, as a part of the plea-bargain, to forgo visitation or other parenting rights. And an individual whose pattern of behavior makes it clear that visitation demands are not about caring for the child, but about causing distress for the mother, and punishing her for his child support obligations, shouldn’t be granted visitation, regardless of whether that child was conceived in rape, or merely an abusive relationship, and whether the abuse was physical or just emotional, or in a relationship that later turned sour.
But I’m less comfortable with the idea of a family court judge making decisions about whether the circumstances of a child’s conception qualify as rape, or not. The example CNN gives, witness testimony without an alibi, doesn’t make much sense, given that the accused rapist, by means of DNA testing, can always be definitively identified as having done the act itself, and the dispute in such cases is generally about whether it was consensual. Taking this out of criminal and into family court risks men losing parental rights due to false accusations, in the same sort of battles as already happen over other accusations in child custody cases. How great a risk is this? How high a standard would family court judges require to sever parental rights, particularly in cases where the man is being required (by the state, if mom uses welfare) to pay child support? I don’t know, and the CNN article doesn’t give any examples of successful parental-rights severing in the states that allow this, so perhaps this system works smoothly, but it seems equally likely that the sorts of custody disputes that arise just don’t end up in the news.
Readers, your thoughts?
Image: By Carin Araujo, http://www.prtc.net/~carin (Stock.xchng #197853) [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons