Bipartisan Effort to Protect Women Impregnated By Rape

momandchildIf a bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives becomes law, women who conceive as a result of rape will not have to worry about their rapists trying to seek child custody.

Last week, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.) and Tom Marino (R-Penn.) introduced the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which encourages states to terminate the parental and custodial rights of rapists. The incentive: Only states that terminate those rights can receive certain federal grants through the Violence Against Women Act to help fight sexual assault.

Currently, more than 30 states allow rapists to pursue custody rights over children fathered through rape. Only six states—South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—meet the standards set by the proposed act; another 13 allow for the termination of parental rights only if the rapist has been convicted of his crime.

But without being able to terminate parental rights, rape survivors can be blackmailed by their rapists into dropping criminal charges, the rapists simply threatening to pursue parental rights otherwise.

If a rapist does gets custody, the consequences can be far-reaching, according to rape survivor and victim right’s activist, Shauna Prewitt. As she wrote in a paper for Georgetown Law School,

These raped women may be forced to do any number of things associated with joint custody, including sharing decision making about schooling, healthcare and religious upbringing, and may even be required to give their children the surnames of the rapist fathers.

Not surprisingly, survivors who are forced to share custody with their rapists can suffer emotional damage and PTSD, says Prewitt.

While most bills only have an 11 percent chance of making it past committee, hopefully the bipartisan nature of the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act will help it become law; so far, 14 Democrats and 3 Republicans have cosponsored it.

Picture of mother/child sculpture by Simon Verity from Flickr user ell brown under license from Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Mary Park-Smith says:

    This needs to pass. And one would think these anti abortion supporters will be behind this. To have to see and possibly subject their child to someone so cruel and exploitative (the rapist) would be a life long horror for the rape survivor. I’m surprised that the victim would carry the child to term and raise it , but in so doing should be subjected to any further contact with the rapist.

    • And if unable to get an abortion (which is sadly to be expected), I wouldn’t be surprised if these impregnated rape survivors committed ‘suicide.’

      This is a time to stand up for the ‘lives’ of the mothers’, pro-lifers (if that is your name).

  2. I think this is important. But I see a big problem with:

    “Only states that terminate those rights can receive certain federal grants through the Violence Against Women Act to help fight sexual assault.”.

    This is only punishing victims further. I would guess that some if not most of the states where rapists get custody are those who are hesitant to want VAWA anyway.

    Let’s say your state is hostile towards victim’s rights. It refuses this provision, looses it’s funding, and then say’s, “Too bad rape survivor, we don’t have the money to help you.”

    Tie it to prision funding or something else that would be a motivation for hostile states to comply.

  3. Charles Huckelbury says:

    Let me see if I understand this. Thirty states permit a rapist to repeatedly victimize the woman he raped by pursuing custody and child-rearing rights for the child conceived through the rape. Only six prevent these assholes from further traumatizing their victims? A rapist is nothing but a coercive sperm donor with no rights except to a prison cell. I always thought that the law prohibited criminals from benefiting from their crimes. I mean, armed robbers don’t get to keep the money they steal, or perhaps they do in those same thirty states. Obviously, some sort of corrective is in order.

  4. ok rape is a crime which all of us agree n it is a crime in every part of the world!! the criminal is supposed to be punished and the victim will be horrified to raise her kid with a criminal because raising a kid includes schooling , choosing religion which is very important in the growth of an individual which is later going to serve the society! with what comfort will a women raise a child with a rapist and mentally how will a kid react when he knows that his fathr is a rapist!! the choice should be with the victim whether she wants the bad omen to follow her or not!

  5. “…may even be required to give their children the surnames of the rapist fathers.”

    I thought it was misogynist enough that there are states that make the father’s last name ‘the’ default ‘last’ name of the child when the creation of the child took both the part of the father AND mother, but THIS!

    I though it was a federal crime to turn human beings, e.g., women into chattel who’s only purpose in life was to ‘breed’ & be ‘exploited.’ I guess a subtle form of human slavery still exists today.

  6. I hope and pray this law would be passed. I live in MN, where a rapist apparantly has rights. I was raped in Jan, 2010, while I was heavily sedated by doctors after having a sudden bout of seizures (for the first time in my life). I found out several weeks later that I was pregnant, much to my complete SHOCK. I am pro-life and always have been. Regardless of where you stand on the abortion issue, the reality is this: A rapist has ALREADY stripped a woman of her reproductive rights- why should any woman be then FORCED to have them taken away twice by a society who ‘assumes’ a woman who conceives through rape would ONLY want an abortion? That is untrue. Some women may feel that way; others may not. For me, there was no question. The baby within me carried my DNA as well. It was my baby, & I should not be forced or pressured into having to kill/throw away my child just to ‘prove’ that it was a ‘legitimate rape.’ (Again, with the assumption from society at large being that a woman who conceived through rape would not want, or hate, the resulting child.)

    I chose to keep my baby and raise her. Since the rape, I have had constant harassment and threats from the rapist. If I would not have an abortion, he assured me the baby would die by ‘accident,’ after she was born. He said he would go to court & fight for visitation & an ‘accident’ would happen at his house. He did several things to scare me out of pressing charges for the rape, & it worked. Even though I knew his reason, I knew I would never risk my baby’s safety in order to pursue rape charges. So, he is free to do as he pleases, and I am raising my baby by myself. Financially, it is TERRIBLY difficult to know I am the only one who will be providing BOTH a mother’s & father’s share for her needs, & to know that he walks free. But, without any law to protect my daughter and I from him pursuing ‘rights,’ that’s what I had to do. I hope this law passes to protect other women & children. Bravo to Shauna Prewitt.

  7. I forgot to mention- I do think rapists should be required to pay restitution to the rape victim. Addressing only ones that result in a pregnancy here (for lack of time/space)… The reason is: Not only is the rape itself a trauma, but so is the years afterward, when the victim must deal with the results of becoming pregnant. If she has an abortion, she suffers trauma from having to go through that, & some suffer months or years of depression & things afterward. If she chooses adoption, the same thing can follow. She may be confident in her decision in both of those cases, but there are undoubtedly unfair effects afterward, through which the mother must suffer as a result of even having to make the decision in the first place (due to the rapist’s actions!). If she chooses to keep the baby, there are obviously enormous financial burdens unduly placed solely on the mother. While some people might argue that she chose to keep it (& don’t do so if you can’t afford it), perhaps the mother has the right to keep her own DNA and her own child, & not be FORCED into killing it or giving it away. After all, it wasn’t due to irresponsibility, or being an unfit mother. It is due to the actions/crime of the rapist. Therefore, rapists should be required to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution would never even cover the actual costs of raising a child (or even half the costs), but it would provide some relief to the woman, who has the right to choose to keep her own flesh & blood child whose conception was FORCED by the rapist. In essence, the rapist STOLE THE WOMAN’S DNA, by forcing his own into her body. If someone murders a person, restitution might be ordered for the family of the victim. If someone steals and embezzles money, the thief can be ordered to pay restitution. Restitution should include what it takes to make the person “whole,” meaning (financially) how the victim was before the situation occurred. Obviously THAT is never going to happen, but restitution should at least include what a ‘father’s’ portion would have been. It really should also include compensation for the victim’s costs of counseling, medical bills, pain & suffering, & at least a portion of the daycare & medical bills for the child. IF these processes were in place, rapists might think a LOT longer & harder about whether committing a rape is ‘worth it.’ In the end, if the penalty were heavy enough, I believe there would be a lot less rape. I know (first-hand) the struggles of carrying a baby conceived by rape- the trauma, wondering if people will ‘judge’ you for keeping the baby (“How could she love the baby, when it will only remind her of the ‘father,’ etc.). But, I do not see the rapist when I look at my child- I see her (& my side of the family). I see the baby I carried, the baby I held, loved, & nursed. I see the little child who is growing & learning from me every day, and the laughter, the hugs, and the funny things she says. There is no greater gift, & even though the circumstances wouldn’t have been what I would have chosen, she is a blessing and a treasure. I will never see any restitution or support or help from my rapist, but I believe this law should be passed to help other victims in the future.

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