Several weeks ago, U.S. Rep. (and Senate candidate) Todd Akin of Missouri made a reprehensible statement, that women who are “legitimately raped” rarely become pregnant. Appropriately, he was denounced by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Victims’ advocates pointed out that not only are Akin’s words disgusting, but people should understand that 31 states, West Virginia included, actually allow rapists parental rights to children they father. This is appalling, to say the least.
This gaping hole in our legal system must be fixed — immediately. And I want to do my part to make this happen in West Virginia.
If elected to the West Virginia Senate, I will introduce a bill to close the loophole in state law that allows a rapist to play a role in the life of any child that he fathers.
It’s the right thing to do. Women should not be treated as second-class citizens.
Probably the most eloquent spokeswoman on the subject has been Shauna R. Prewitt, a Chicago attorney, who wrote “Giving Birth to a ‘Rapist’s Child’: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape.” In the Georgetown Law Journal, Prewitt tells of being raped at age 21 during her final year of college:
“I have dissected that moment — the horrifying moment that I became a ‘victim’ — from every possible angle. I have poked and prodded, examined and re-examined. Regrettably, I have even suspected myself in a desperate, ultimately futile attempt to understand how I became a victim.
“But blaming myself was neither my idea nor my first inclination. I thought such 17th-century notions were long dead. I was wrong. People who did not even know me were quick to comment or speculate on my rape. What were you wearing? Did you scream loudly? Did this occur in public?
“As my history lesson said, I found myself on trial, facing the most fierce judge and jury: ignorance.
“Eight years after my rape, I find myself on trial against ignorance again. Rep. Akin’s recent comments that ‘legitimate rape’ rarely results in pregnancy not only flout scientific fact but, for me, cut deeper. Akin has de-legitimized my rape.”
Nine months after she was raped, Ms. Prewitt gave birth to “a beautiful little girl.”
She soon found first-hand that in 31 states, rapists are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to children as other fathers. Where no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her right to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist leaving her child alone. Opponents argue no woman would ever choose to raise a child conceived through rape, but the only two studies to analyze the subject show at least 30 percent of women do make this choice.
“Others argue that no rapist would ever seek parental rights,” Ms Prewitt writes. “Not only does my experience and that of others I know prove otherwise, but it is not surprising that a man who cruelly degrades a woman would also seek to torture her in an even more agonizing way, by seeking access to her child.
“Either we will fight ignorance and take steps to legislate for raped women based upon reason and facts, or we will be led by ignorance and continue to make bad laws. Or fail to make good ones.”
Advocates estimate that roughly 25,000 women become pregnant each year through rape. Most states have no law to aid women who choose to raise their rape-conceived children.
I’d like to fix this unbelievable problem in West Virginia — immediately.
Martin, of Poca, is an attorney and a candidate for the West Virginia Senate in the 8th District.