As has happened many times and in many places, a Michigan rapist has been given parental rights and joint custody over a child born from one of those rapes. Though this particular case happened in Michigan this bullshit has received media coverage before. And before that. And before that.
Should I go on? Probably not. Samantha Bee did, and that still hasn’t helped.
In fact, if you watch that piece, Michigan is not actually one of the states in red that Bee singles out for condemnation. How does that work? The good states are actually bad?
Well, yes. Because Bee’s standards are shockingly low. In her piece, states were singled out for shaming if it was impossible to terminate the parental rights of your rapist to custody of and/or visitation with your child. As you can see in this handy guide to Michigan’s laws regarding parental rights terminations, while it is possible to terminate a rapist’s parental rights, you must first raise the issue of custody in a hearing before the court. You do this, as a parent, with all the requirements of any custody hearing including notice to the rapist and necessary legal exchanges, possibly even depositions. While there’s nothing preventing the state from writing a law that permits prosecutors to terminate parental rights on their own when they secure a conviction, in Michigan and most other states which permit termination of a rapist’s parental rights, it’s actually up to you as a parent and victim to hire your own lawyer and communicate with your rapist.
In many states, it is not up to the victim whether or not parental rights will be terminated, but in the worst possible sense. This isn’t because prosecutors are helpfully undertaking these actions on behalf of rape victims to minimize trauma. This is because for a very large number of states (there were 20 in 2016) the termination of parental rights requires a related criminal conviction. If the rapist was not in fact convicted of a crime by the state before the expiration of the statute of limitations, there’s nothing the other parent can do to terminate the rapist’s parental rights. For those states, even though Bee doesn’t list the task as impossible, it is impossible unless a criminal case was taken up by prosecutors, ended in conviction, and the conviction wasn’t plea-bargained down to a crime minor enough to fall outside the scope of the statutory justifications for terminating a rapist’s parental rights.
It doesn’t matter if proving paternity would simultaneously require proving that a serious crime had occurred. Most commonly, this absurd situation would occur when violence is irrelevant to the type of crime alleged. For instance, if one person involved in sexual intercourse was 20 years old or more and the other was less than 16 years old, a felony has been committed in any of the 50 states. With pregnancy as proof that the sex actually occurred, in the absence of the absurd Men’s Rights scenarios about stolen sperm being magically true (and orchestrated by a child), proving a biological relationship to the newborn simultaneously proves the sexual exploitation of the slightly older child.
This was the substance of the case in Michigan (although Michigan does not actually require a conviction to terminate rights, only a disputed custody hearing before the court where evidence of rape is submitted) I linked to above. In that case, a 12 year old girl was held prisoner in an abandoned house for 2 days by an 18 year old young scumbag, Christopher Mirasolo. Given the ages of Mirasolo and his victim, proving paternity inevitably also proves rape. And, as it happens, in this case there was a conviction on record anyway (though the conviction was only for attempted rape, we may judge the “success” of the attempt based on the resulting child). The rapist had actually gone on to be convicted again in an unrelated case a few years later for crimes against another girl nearly the same age as his first victim, but apparently a bit older*1.
So how the hell did a judge come to grant custody and visitation rights to this scumbag? Well, now. That’s a very interesting story. And by “interesting,” I mean “emetic”.
The child victimized by this scumbag has become a 21 year old young adult trying to get through school while parenting an 8 year old child. Unsurprisingly, there came a time when she needed the financial assistance that our governments offer to families in need*2. The state who convicted Mirasolo suddenly became very interested in giving him the fullest possible parental rights, because under the law they are allowed to try to force the recovery of money spent on assistance from any parent not paying for the support of the child.
But wait, why in the world would they do this when there’s a rape conviction on record? Could it be that the victim applied for assistance in one location while the conviction was lodged in another … and the staff of the local prosecutor doesn’t know how to database? Nope. They’re just scumbags. From the Detroit News story, with quotes from the victim’s lawyer, Rebecca Kiessling:
A Sanilac County Circuit judge has granted parenting time and joint legal custody of an 8-year-old boy to a convicted sex offender who allegedly raped the child’s mother nine years ago.*3
“She, her 13-year-old sister and a friend all slipped out of their house one night to meet a boy and the boy’s older friend, Mirasolo, showed up and asked if they wanted to go for a ride,” said Kiessling. “They thought they were going to McDonald’s or somewhere.
“Instead, he tossed their cellphones away, drove to Detroit where he stole gas from a station and then drove back to Sanilac County, where he kept them captive for two days in a vacant house near a relative, finally releasing the older sister in a park. He threatened to kill them if they told anyone what happened.”
… Mirasolo was given a plea deal by the Sanilac County Prosecutor’s Office for attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
So what is going on here? Let’s ask the person most affected:
“I think this is all crazy,” she told The News. “They (officials) never explained anything to me. I was receiving about $260 a month in food stamps for me and my son and health insurance for him. I guess they were trying to see how to get some of the money back.”
That’s right, the state who set up this statutory scheme, the state who chose to undercharge Mirasolo for a 48-hour kidnapping of a 12 year-old child, her violent rape, and multiple death threats associated with the rape and with its conclusion where the child was threatened should she reveal anything about the rape to authorities, the state who was saving money by spending $260/month now to get better nutrition into a child so that the child would be more likely to become an educated contributor to the economy later, that state felt itself victimized and really, really wanted to get some of that money back. But because Michigan does not permit a parent to be charged child support after custody and visitation rights are terminated because the child was conceived incident to rape, Michigan wanted to establish the greatest possible set of parental rights to help make its case later against Mirasolo to recover some of the money paid in assistance to his victims.
Of course, the state could have simply charged him a large fine at the time of his conviction. After all, the rape itself was only prosecuted after the pregnancy was known. From the Detroit News again, picking up right after the description of the actual crime:
Mirasolo was arrested a month later, [Kiessling] said, when her client was pregnant.
That’s right. Mirasolo might not have even been charged had the victim not been pregnant. Yet despite the key evidentiary and motivational role of the pregnancy, the state apparently was too dumb to know that kids result from pregnancies and that kids cost money to raise. It’s as a result of those failings that the Sanilac prosecutors felt the need to file this motion in the first place.
But these are prosecutors, right? They have educations. Surely they didn’t fuck it all up in their quest to squeeze money out of a man who could have simply been fined when originally convicted?
In a word, no. They did, in fact, fuck it all up. In treating this case the way they did, the prosecutor apparently asserted that he had the victim’s consent when, if he ever had anything like consent, he certainly didn’t have informed consent and he certainly had nothing in writing when he is absolutely expected to have clearly written, clearly signed consent in such situations. But it’s much, much worse than that. Because of this action modifying the previous de facto custody arrangement, the court took routine steps that are used in ordinary custody cases to make sure that one parent doesn’t take arbitrary steps to avoid the effect of the court order. In this case, however, the requirements are completely ludicrous and completely abusive:
“This is insane,” said Kiessling, who filed objections Friday with Ross. “Nothing has been right about this since it was originally investigated. He was never properly charged and should still be sitting behind bars somewhere, but the system is victimizing my client, who was a child herself when this all happened.”
[The judge in the case, Gregory S.] Ross disclosed the rape victim’s address to Mirasolo and ordered Mirasolo’s name to be added to the child’s birth certificate — all without the victim’s consent or a hearing, according to Kiessling. …
Kiessling said her client was notified she was “not allowed to move 100 miles from where she had been living when the case was filed, without court consent.”
But after the disclosure of her address to her rapist and the man who threatened her with death, she had in fact fled to stay with relatives elsewhere. So what did prosecutor and scumbag Eric Scott do?
“So the prosecutor told her she had to come home immediately or she would be held in contempt of court,” Kiessling said.
Kiessling has been quite specific about how she feels Scott has handled the case:
“An assistant prosecutor on this, Eric Scott, told me she had granted her consent, which was a lie — she has never been asked to do this and certainly never signed anything,” Kiessling said.
Believe me, a lawyer wouldn’t make this accusation about a prosecutor without having very good reasoning and evidence to back it up. There are many ways to weasel one’s way around a topic without making direct statements like this, and prosecutors can make a lawyer’s life tough in way too many ways. If Kiessling couldn’t back this up (or at least believe strongly that she could back this up) this statement would never have been made in public.
This whole situation is enraging, and the behavior of prosecutors is clearly egregious (it’s unclear how much information was disclosed to the judge, the judge’s behavior may also have been egregious but that’s not known yet, at least to me). But the Detroit News goes farther. They assert:
The case, initially reported on “The Steve Gruber Show,” a Lansing-based radio program, is believed the first of its kind in Michigan and possibly the nation.
Oh, bullshit. It’s hard to know exactly what they intended by this. Perhaps they had something very specific in mind, like,
It’s the first case of which we are aware in which prosecuting attorneys, rather than some other state agency, sought an order of paternity on behalf of a fucking convicted rapist and against the clearly expressed wishes of the victim who was 12 years old at the time of the assault, and then turned over the victim’s current address to the rapist who had previously expressed an intent to kill the victim, all so that the state could recover an amount of money paid in benefits equal to exactly $260/month.
Throw enough conditionals on there and of course it’s the first of its kind, but we have years of coverage of this issue. The blunt and ugly fact is that state laws all over the country force rape victims to share custody of their children with their rapists, and this is particularly difficult for young adults who were raped as children and now have to hand over children at or near the age they were when they were victimized to the person who has clearly proved a willingness to rape children.
The Detroit News did fairly well in reporting this case, withholding the victim’s name and otherwise adhering to the basic journalistic standards for such reporting*5. But we can praise TDN for bringing an important case to light and for acting consistently with journalistic standards while still advocating that they be pilloried for such gross distortions of such publicly-relevant and policy-relevant facts.
Michigan didn’t do anything unusual here. We have, as a nation, allowed politicians to set up systems that prioritize snagging a few bucks over victim safety. Even were the states truly in desperate need of this money, even if this money represented a sizable percentage of states’ budgets, fines for sex-related crimes could be increased and the effect on victims would be zero. The states crafted these laws and policies through deliberate negotiations.
The states have determined that this is what they want: rapists getting parental rights in order for states to claim a sense of deprivation that might justify seeking money from rapists under the rubric of “back child support”. Such laws and policies, of course, provide immunity to those wealthy enough that they need not seek state support.
But it’s no surprise that this is what the states want. Victimizing women and the poor for the benefit of patriarchy and the state has a long, long history in the USA, and no government, local, state or federal, will give that up on that tradition without a fight.
Time for action.
So what next? How do we fix this? First, it’s apparent that the Sanilac prosecutors have acted unethically. If you feel you have a local connection to Sanilac, you may want to contact them and express your opinion on their behavior. Their contact information is publicly listed this way:
Courthouse, Room 314, 60 West Sanilac
Sandusky, MI 48471
(810) 648-3402 Fax (810) 648-2332
Next, if you live in Michigan, you can call the state legislature and tell them that even states like Arkansas have legislation that maintains child support obligations after termination of parental rights towards children conceived in the commission of or incident to a sex-related crime. If you hold my opinion, you can also advocate that new legislation include provisions routinely terminating parental rights to children conceived during or incident to such crimes concomitant with any sentencing however minor, and also advocate that for situations in which no prosecution occurred or where a person was found not guilty that the victim may still file for termination of such rights during child custody determination, subject to proving by clear and convincing evidence that the apparent sex was in fact an assault.
In other states, you can tell your legislature that a conviction should not be required in cases where clear and convincing evidence otherwise exists, and that where a conviction does occur, termination of rights should be automatic and part of any sentencing.
A further argument could be made for another position I hold: that the current framework permitting child support orders against those whose parental rights were terminated on conviction is in fact wrong headed. I advocate an alternative system where the state administers a fund that pays benefits without means-testing to any person financially responsible for a child conceived incident to a crime that was successfully prosecuted. Every single person convicted of a sex crime should be fined and have the amount of that fine placed directly into the fund, with additional monies contributed from the state’s general fund as needed. For those victims whose cases weren’t (successfully) prosecuted, applications would be allowed to receive benefits from the fund, but would generally require having terminated the rights of a rapist through the alternative process above (and thus having already provided clear and convincing evidence).
There are plenty of places where you can determine the contact info for your representatives at the state level, and I trust your general google-fu, but in case you’re just not sure where to start, try this tool at Congress.gov.
*1: the age of the second victim is given as “13-15”.
*2: You can argue about whether or not this is a good idea on someone else’s blog, if you’re opposed to programs that aid the poor. And while you’re at it, if you’re opposed to those programs you should seriously rethink your ethics.
*3: As an appalling aside, note that the Detroit News uses the phrase “allegedly raped” when there’s a conviction in place and a DNA test proving that the 18 year old Mirasolo had sexual intercourse with the 12 year old victim.
Jeez, is Mirasolo white or something?
*4: I know lawyers in BC (who should be disbarred, btw) who got clients to sign a blank disclosure form. Despite being highly unethical and abusive, allowing the lawyer to entirely ignore responsibilities under attorney/client privilege and then simply fill in language that covers that behavior later, in a situation of disproportionate power and opaque formalities, that lawyer was able to convince more than one client to sign a document not only without the client reading it, but without even writing anything in a large (2-part) box clearly labeled as the location for the substance of the exceptions to attorney/client privilege – a box which takes up the vast majority of the 2-page form. If the prosecutor has nothing in writing, they surely never had any kind of consent in the first place.
*5: At least so far as I understand those standards, which is imperfectly at best.