Bipartisan Effort to Protect Women Impregnated By Rape

If 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