When I wrote this title, I found myself squinting at the words and wanting to discard the title, given my visceral reaction. I see the question, “Child Custody is an Issue” when discussing a child born by a mother, who became pregnant as a direct result of rape and literally scratch my head. But yesterday, 19 January 2013, I had my eyes opened when I read the Mother Jones piece “Imagine You Were Raped. Got Pregnant. Then Your Rapist Sought Custody” (by Dana Liebelson & Sydney Brownstone – Mother Jones 24 August 2012) and learned that states in my country (the United States) this is an issue, regularly an issue. What the hell?
I continued reading, salient take-away included “27 states have no statutes to protect the mothers of rape-conceived children” and “54% of rapes/sexual assaults are unreported,” according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) who drew their data from the Department of Justice.
1-Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010
2-FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
3-National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America, 1999
4-Department of Justice, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
5-Department of Justice, Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties: average of 2002-2006
Mother Jones continues, “But of the 19 states that have laws addressing the custody of rape-conceived children, 13 require proof of conviction in order to waive the rapist’s parental rights. Two more states have provisions on the issue that only apply if the victim is a minor or, in one of those cases, a stepchild or adopted child of the rapist. Another three states don’t have laws that deal with custody of a rapist’s child specifically, but do restrict the parental rights of a father or mother who sexually abused the other parent.”
Here is the map which accompanied the August 2012 Mother Jones article, depicting which states offered no protection, which had restricted protections and which had the most protection.
In the map which follows, the red states are those who provide no protection for mothers of rape-conceived children; the dark pink are those states which afford some protection (restrictions such as a conviction, the victim’s age, or addresses rape without conception of a child); the light pink are those states which offer the most protection (Custody and visitation restrictions don’t necessarily require a rape conviction)>
Are you looking at the Mother Jones map and shaking your head? I am. I note that the State of Washington is in the “does not have a law” category, something I hope all of my fellow Washingtonians will help address in 2013.
When one finishes reading the Mother Jones piece, the empathy for Shauna Prewitt, whose personal saga is shared, is tremendous. I decided to dig a bit deeper to better understand. I did an internet search using Google: “rapist awarded custody of child” and received > 26 million results. Really? I thumbed through the first 10,000 or so, looking at the titles and shaking my head at the volume. I early on discovered a scholarly piece within the Georgetown Law Journal written by the same, Shauna Prewitt – “Giving Birth to a “Rapist’s Child”: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape” (PDF 36 pages) Take the time and read the entire note, it is illuminating.
I provide the introduction:
“Approximately 25,000 women become pregnant through rape each year. In response, many states have passed special laws, devised streamlined procedures, or both, to aid pregnant women who seek abortions or wish to place their rape-conceived children for adoption. However, few states have passed laws to aid the large numbers of raped women who choose to raise their rape-conceived children. Without such laws, in most states, a man who fathers through rape has the same custody and visitation privileges to that child as does any other father of a child. Moreover, as a result of this legal void, raped women and their children are left to face substantial and potentially terrible consequences. This Note argues that the absence of these laws stems from the societal images and other rhetoric concerning the pregnant raped woman that depict raped women as hating their unborn children and viewing their rape pregnancies as continuing their rape experience. These societal constructions have created a biased “prototype” of the pregnant raped woman and of the prototypical rape pregnancy experience by which all pregnant raped women are judged. Women who raise their rape-conceived children depart from the prototype and are, as a result, viewed with suspicion. Legal protections, such as alternate custody rights, are then denied to them because, being viewed as “imposter” rape victims, it is thought that there is nothing special about these women or their conceptions requiring any change in the manner in which custody and visitation determinations are made.”
and the sobering conclusion:
“Pregnancy from rape occurs with significant frequency. Recognizing this, many states, as well as the federal government, have passed laws designed to streamline the ability of raped women to either abort their pregnancy or have their rape-conceived children adopted. Yet, only sixteen states have passed laws designed specifically to aid the considerable number of women who choose to raise their rape-conceived children. Even in those sixteen states, the protections are sometimes illusory and often only extend to the handful of raped women who manage both to secure speedy rape convictions and to convince a judge that paternal rights termination is in their children’s best interests. This Note suggests that far from being surprising, this result is entirely expected. This is because of the invidious stereotypes concerning the pregnant raped woman that have been articulated in public and private discourse, which depict raped women as hating their unborn children and as viewing their rape pregnancies as a continuation of their rape experience. These societal constructions have created a biased prototype of the pregnant raped woman and of the prototypical rape pregnancy experience by which all raped women are judged. Because women who raise their rape-conceived children depart heavily from the prototype, they are, as a result, viewed with suspicion. Legal protections, such as statutorily mandated alternative custody or visitation rights, are then denied to them because, being viewed as suspicious in their rape conception claims, it is thought that there is nothing special about their conceptions requiring any change in the manner in which custody and visitation determinations are made. This both explains how the rape act, which is so heinous that even the child growing within the woman is repeatedly demonized in public discourse, can become so minimized that, after the birth of a “rapist’s child,” society’s laws readily tether a raped woman to her attacker and why prevailing law tends only to protect the raped woman in a Russian Roulette fashion. Combating the effects of the pregnant-raped-woman prototype requires conscious awareness of the way public and private discourse conceives of the pregnant raped woman. Perhaps reenergizing the nonconsensual-act justification in the abortion rhetoric would assist in reversing this trend. By focusing on choice rather than necessity, the nonconsensual-act justification squarely focuses on the raped woman’s autonomy without expressing either an overt or covert opinion as to what her choice ought to be. More importantly, by conceiving of a pregnant raped woman who requires special laws because of the attack against her reproductive freedom rather than of the “enemy” growing within her, adoption of the nonconsensual-act rhetoric restores true choice to the pregnant raped woman by limiting society’s input into what that choice ought to be. In addition, it erases the stigma attached to the raped women who choose to raise their children because there is no longer an articulated understanding of how pregnant-raped women respond to their pregnancies, or, more importantly, how they ought to respond.
Freeing a raped woman from the stigma of being viewed as an impostor rape victim solely because of her decision to raise and love her rape-conceived child not only respects reproductive choice but also spurs greater legal protections for these women. Although the stigma concerning “real” rape remains, a piece of it—which labels “real” rape as occurring only where a woman, pregnant from that rape, hates the rape product growing within her—will be deconstructed. Such deconstruction is not only necessary to further erode the stereotypes underpinning the “real” rape conceptions that continue to handicap rape laws, but it is also essential to address and redress the rights of raped women who conceive and raise their children from rape.
Here is a CNN interview of Shana Prewitt: VIDEO Prewitt CNN
So I ask you, take a look at your state’s position on the custody of a child conceived as a result of rape and if the position is lacking, get yourself engaged.
And if you are a victim of sexual assault, please report it – National Sexual Assault Hotline | 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) | Free. Confidential. 24/7.