You Won’t Believe the Number of States That Let Rapists Pursue Parental Rights

The thought of a mother forced to share custody with her rapist is a little to much for ‘The Daily Show’ correspondent Samantha Bee to handle.
Apr 10, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

As if suffering the trauma of sexual assault weren’t a horrific enough burden for the roughly 293,000 women raped each year in the U.S., the women impregnated as a result may be forced to spend additional time with their attackers. In nearly 20 states, a victim may have to face her assailant again, long after a criminal trial has passed, during a custody battle.

No national law exists to protect women from sharing custody with their rapists—a fact that The Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee had trouble stomaching without stopping for intermittent snuggles with cuddly animals.

“If you are the victim of rape and you conceive a child, then you should be able to terminate your rapist’s parental rights,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told Bee on Wednesday night’s episode.

Wasserman Schultz attempted to remedy this injustice with the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act in 2013. Despite bipartisan support, from both anti- and pro-choice groups, the bill did not even receive a hearing. That’s because it included $25 million spent over five years to grease the wheels with states by monetarily incentivizing them to alter their individual constitutions with an amendment allowing women to terminate rapists’ custodial rights.

Wasserman Schultz hasn’t given up, and she’s confident that her newest version of the bill, assigned to a congressional committee in March, has a better shot at passing.

What Bee can’t comprehend is why a relatively small amount of money—by government standards—prevents protecting survivors and their children, or why states need money to make the change in the first place.

“Quick question,” Bee asks. “Why the f--- do states even need an incentive?”

Advocate Shauna Prewitt, who battled her rapist in court over custody of her daughter for two years, believes that it may have to do with legislators blaming the victims. “I think that the problem…goes back to the suspicions that legislators have of raped women,” she said.

To make matters worse, Prewitt explained that the attackers can use the threat of a custody battle to their advantage, promising not to pursue parental rights if the woman drops criminal charges. Essentially, the woman is forced to choose between persecuting a dangerous attacker who could go on to harm more women—or, as Bee puts it, “every other weekend you have to meet your rapist in a Denny’s parking lot and hand over your child.”

While the implementation of Wasserman Schultz’s proposed legislation hangs in the balance, Bee decides a little bit of state shaming is the next logical step. Embarrassing the nearly 20 states, including New York, Ohio, and Hawaii, might inspire legislators to amend their laws with federal incentives—or at least encourage viewers to start pestering their representatives.