WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to adopt U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) bipartisan amendment that would help rape survivors raise their children in healthy environments. The amendment – modeled after the senators’ bipartisan Rape Survivor Child Custody Act – was offered to an underlying human trafficking bill and incentivizes states to pass laws allowing women to petition for the termination of their attacker’s parental rights if there is clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived through rape.
“Victims of human trafficking are especially vulnerable to sexual assault. Women who give birth to a child conceived through rape may face intimidation by attackers who pursue parental rights,” said Brown. “This amendment will help protect rape survivors, ensuring their right to care for their children free from fear and duress.”
“When a child is conceived through rape, the attacker often uses his legal paternal rights to harass and intimidate the mother, creating a dangerous environment for the child,” Ayotte said. “I’m pleased the trafficking bill includes our amendment to encourage states to adopt legal standards whereby victims can more easily petition for the termination of their attacker’s parental rights, enabling mothers to better protect themselves and their children.”
In the United States, thousands of women give birth to children from rape-related pregnancies. Women who give birth to a child conceived through rape can often face intimidation from attackers who pursue parental rights. This can have traumatic psychological effects on the survivor, making it more difficult for her to recover and properly raise her child. Further, rapists may use the threat of pursuing parental rights as a way to coerce survivors into not prosecuting rape.
Courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights without an explicit statute. Twenty-one states, however, and Washington D.C., do not have an explicit statute that allows women to restrict the parental rights of men who impregnate them through rape. And of the 30 states that do, 20 require a conviction of rape.
Brown’s and Ayotte’s amendment would achieve this by making states eligible for additional Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) formula grants if they pass such an explicit statute. The award would be equal to or up to 10 percent more than what the state already receives in VAWA formula grants. To ensure these funds are helping rape victims, at least 75 percent would be used toward the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) which funds services for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The funds would also be used toward the Services, Trainers, Officers, Prosecutors (STOP) program, which funds training for the legal and criminal response to violence against women.
Among the endorsers of Brown’s and Ayotte’s amendment are the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN); National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; and National Taskforce to End Sexual, and Domestic Violence Against Women.