Rapists Can Claim Child Custody and Visitation Rights in 31 States

Not only does rape make babies, it can make unwanted baby daddies.

Congressman Todd Akin’s biologically illiterate comments on rape have triggered a national discussion, much of it most likely beyond his understanding. (Photo: Reuters)

Aug 23, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

United States congressman Todd Akin’s false assumption that forced sexual encounters do not cause pregnancies because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” is absurd, granted, but not quite so absurd as current laws in 31 states that allow a rapist to petition for visitation rights and custody to a child produced by that felon’s criminal sexual assault.

Shauna R. Prewitt, a Chicago lawyer, was raped as a 21-year-old college student. The rape resulted in a pregnancy, which Prewitt carried to term, giving birth to a daughter who is now 7 years old.

Prewitt appeared on CNN this morning to advocate for legislation that would protect mothers who have conceived through rape, and the children they give birth to, from being further victimized by their assailants.

MORE: Afghan Rape Victim Free to Not Marry Rapist

In Prewitt’s experience, men who father through rape will assert for custody as a bargaining wedge against the mother during criminal trials for rape. “For the sake of her child,” writes Prewitt on CNN’s opinion page, “the woman will sacrifice her need to see her once immensely powerful perpetrator humbled by the court.”

The problem of rapists forcing themselves upon the children of the women they have raped has the potential to be more widespread than someone like Representative Akin might like to believe.

Prewitt cites studies that indicate that at least 30 percent of women who are impregnated during a rape make the choice to carry the child to birth.

The conflicted and life-affirming process by which Shauna Prewitt became aware of her pregnancy and decided to bring her daughter into the world is detailed in an open letter to Representative Todd Akin on xoJane. Here’s part of it:

Never underestimate the intricacies of human feeling and experience. Although I would not be able to articulate it for months, I was experiencing a most curious emotion toward the life growing inside of me, an emotion that both enlivened me and caused me to experience an intolerable shame. You see, to my surprise, I did not altogether hate the life growing inside of me. Instead, I felt a sort of kinship, a partnership—perhaps the kind that only develops between those who have suffered together—but, nevertheless, I felt a bond.

Is there any argument that the bond Prewitt describes should be free from the intrusion of the man responsible for inflicting one of the most brutal and agonizing experiences of the mother’s life?

Do you live in one of the 31 states that allow a rapist to seek custody and visitation rights? Leave your feelings in COMMENTS.

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