WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced bipartisan legislation that would help rape survivors raise their children in healthy environments. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act incentivizes states to pass laws allowing women to petition for the termination of their attacker’s parental rights if there is clear evidence that the child was conceived through rape.
“The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act is necessary to help ensure the rights of rape survivors who give birth to a child conceived through rape,” Brown said. “Often times, victims may be intimidated by their attacker in the parenting process, which ultimately harms the child and hinders the mother’s ability to parent. This legislation would award grants to states that protect these rape survivors—to the benefit of the mother and her child.”
“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. “Our bill encourages states to adopt legal standards whereby victims can more easily petition for the termination of their attacker’s paternal 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. But when rapists pursue parental rights, it forces rape survivors to maintain interactions with their attacker and inhibits their ability to properly heal. This psychological wound not only hurts the mother, but also makes it more difficult for her to properly raise her child. Further, rapists may use the threat of pursuing parental rights as a way to coerce the mother into not prosecuting rape.
Courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights without an explicit statute. Twenty three states, however, including 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 28 states that do, 20 require a conviction of rape.
To protect rape victims and their children, the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act incentivizes states to pass laws allowing women to petition for the termination of their attacker’s parental rights if there is clear evidence that the child was conceived through rape. Brown’s and Ayotte’s legislation 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 legislation is 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.