When Rapists Want Custody

If the prospect of a woman being forced to deliver a baby that was conceived through rape isn’t horrifying enough, here’s another aspect that may be even more appalling — what happens when the rapist demands custody and visitation for that child after it is born? Yes, that actually happens.

Nineteen states have laws restricting the parental rights of men who father through rape. But everywhere else, those men may technically seek parental rights, including visitation and custody.

Without statutes stripping rapists of parental rights, “courts don’t feel they have the power to terminate,” Prewitt explains. “They’re left to delicately balance this presumption that both parents should be part of a child’s life.”

In some cases, says Prewitt, men can use this legal loophole as a kind of blackmail.

“We see a lot of cases where fathers through rape have sought custody rights, but I don’t know that they want to have a sincere involvement in the child’s life. They will say, if you don’t pursue criminal charges, I won’t seek custody.” Given the choice between definitely maintaining sole custody of their child or possibly seeing their attacker convicted, most women will choose the kid.

It doesn’t happen often, but even once is too many times. Forcing a woman into such a position is unimaginably cruel.

19 comments on this post.
  1. Marcus Ranum:

    That’s nuts! Unless it’s also a trap and if some idiot tries to get custody it opens him up for child support? (Which, IMO, rapists should owe, along with punitive damages..)

  2. left0ver1under:

    I see no difference between “custody rights” for rapists in the US and “punishment” for rape victims in islamic countries. Both are intended to abuse the victims a second time, to punish women for being women, and to send a threatening message to all other women in society.

  3. greg1466:

    I’d think it would not be a great situation for the child either. But then good Christian Family Values only care about the man and the fetus.

  4. Gregory in Seattle:

    “Forcing a woman into such a position is unimaginably cruel.”

    Inflicting women with cruelty is the reason why the Religious Right exists.

  5. usingreason:

    The majority of States in the USA also have laws on the books that make martial rape a lesser crime. Anyone see a pattern here?

  6. loren:

    How does the Religious Right enter into any of this? Ed’s post doesn’t mention the Religious Right, and neither does the article.

  7. noastronomer:

    I suppose that the good news is that nineteen states apparently have something. Though one would think that being a convicted felon would be enough to deny visitation rights under any circumstances.

    Mike

  8. demonhauntedworld:

    Surely this problem can’t exist because women’s bodies have a way of shutting the whole thing down.

  9. Nepenthe:

    @noastronomer

    in the cases cited the rapist was not charged or not convicted. IANAL, so I can’t see how custody can be denied on the basis of an allegation.

  10. Gregory in Seattle:

    @loren – These laws exist, or at least have remained in place, largely because conservative Christians strenuously object to changing them. They have stood very hard on both of the positions that women must be forced to carry their rapist’s child to term and that the father always has a right to visitation and custody regardless of the circumstances of the child’s conception.

    So yes, this kind of situation is EXACTLY what the religious right wants, and they want it EXACTLY as a way to assert their authority over women.

  11. Gregory in Seattle:

    @Nepenthe – The problem is that absent laws to the contrary, a felony rape conviction does not terminate parental rights. There have been cases — I will look for references — where men have successfully pursued visitation because they were convicted of rape: “I spent three years in prison for fathering that child: she has no grounds to deny me my rights as a father.”

    That is why the tactic of “Don’t call the cops and I won’t pursue custody” is so successful.

  12. bradleybetts:

    “It doesn’t happen often, but even once is too many times. Forcing a woman into such a position is unimaginably cruel.”

    They’re rapists. They are, generally speaking, a bunch of bastards.

  13. D. C. Sessions:

    Considering the long odds against getting an actual conviction for rape, and bearing in mind that without a conviction any laws limiting parental rights are moot, this might well be good insurance.

    Oh, justice? We have a system of law, not a system of justice. Ask any judge.

  14. Big Boppa:

    unimaginably cruel

    Isn’t this the mission statement of the Republican Party? Or maybe it’s the Catholic church.

  15. freemage:

    bradleybetts@12: The cruelty here isn’t just the rapists’, though; it’s shared by the system that gives them this leeway.

  16. peterw:

    “The majority of States in the USA also have laws on the books that make martial rape a lesser crime. Anyone see a pattern here?”

    A handful of states – 6 or 7 – make marital rape a lesser crime. While that’s too many, pretending that nothing has changed in the past 30 years is ridiculous.

  17. burberry borsa:

    burberry borsa Controllare Burberry Sciarpa di cashmere multicolore fitta e rigogliosa. Molto morbido e fine light.Both ornate con la perla finezza clean.Coming fringed.Cashmere.Dry con scatola regalo nera e scheda seriale. 180 * 33cm Burberry e famo…

    Controllare Burberry Sciarpa di cashmere multicolore fitta e rigogliosa. Molto morbido e fine light.Both ornate con la perla finezza clean.Coming fringed.Cashmere.Dry con scatola regalo nera e scheda seriale. 180 * 33cm Burberry e famoso per il suo des…

  18. khms:

    “The majority of States in the USA also have laws on the books that make martial rape a lesser crime. Anyone see a pattern here?”

    A handful of states – 6 or 7 – make marital rape a lesser crime. While that’s too many, pretending that nothing has changed in the past 30 years is ridiculous.

    While I’m sure you took the intended meaning, the other one would be interesting, too.

  19. angie:

    Yep, this does indeed happen- happened to one of my best friends actually. She was date rape drugged at after hours cocktails by her boss, and was so humiliated (and physically harmed- he’d beaten her while she was out as well) by the experience that she quit her job and moved back in with her parents. The guy found out she was pregnant and also that she’d decided to give her child up for adoption and had already picked the parents, at which time he legally forced a paternity test and took her to court for custody of the child. So late in her pregnancy she had to sit in court across from her rapist and recount her whole rape story and watch all of his lies and manipulations to try to gain custody of the baby she was intending to adopt out to parents she’d already picked through an agency, and she also had to hire lawyers while unemployed. She’s still paying her parents back for all the lawyer fees years later, but thankfully the court sided with her and decided the rapist should not have any rights over the child, and she was able to adopt out her child and join the military and get the heck out of dodge like she’d planned. She’d been majorly worried because she was way past the legal time limits to have an abortion when the rapist found out she was pregnant and decided to meddle, and she wanted to join the military and get the heck out of her small town but the military will not allow single mothers to join (though they’ll happily take single fathers, which is majorly unfair). If the rapist had won his case she said her life would’ve been sheer hell because she would have been morally forced to keep her child in order to keep it out of the hands of an abusive rapist, and would’ve had to fight him about partial custody rights and deal with him in her life until the child became an adult. She was seriously contemplating suicide if the rapist won any sort of custody rights at all. I’m so glad things worked out the way they did, but it’s unbelievably fucked up that rapists can even sue for custody rights in the first place.

    I just wanted to highlight that this does in fact happen, and these laws should be changed because they really screw peoples’ lives up.

Leave a comment

You must be