Most Hoosiers were as shocked as legislators earlier this year when they learned that in Indiana, rapists retain parental rights over children conceived by their violent crime. State lawmakers are finding it nearly impossible to right this blatant wrong. But it can be done. At least one other state shows what at a minimum is possible.
In Indiana, if a rape victim who became pregnant because of sexual assault chooses to give birth, she can find herself being victimized by her rapist a second time when he seeks parental visitation rights or even custody. Its revolting, but rapists retain their rights in at least 27 states, including Indiana.
In January, Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, sponsored Senate Bill 190 that would deny parental rights to rapists if a court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person perpetrated the rape. He proposed the legislation after a constituent told him her rapist was seeking custody of her child.
Despite making an exception if the rapist was married to his victim, the legislation failed. Because lawmakers from both parties had many questions, they sent the issue to an interim study committee. And on Wednesday the committee voted 7-1 to do nothing.
It happened to Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago lawyer and a native of Missouri. She wrote a book about how her attacker was able to use the legal system to victimize her a second time by seeking child visitation rights. Her book is called Giving Birth to a Rapists Child: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape.
Prewitt also wrote an article for CNN.com after Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri, made his inexcusable and ignorant comments about the victims of legitimate rape.
Eight years after my rape, I find myself on trial against ignorance again. Rep. Todd Akins 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, Prewitt wrote.
At least Missouri allows the court to intervene to terminate rapists parental rights, something Indiana should do as well and do in the coming legislative session.
If theres a conviction, there ought to be a step the victim can take to protect themselves and the child, said Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, who cast the only dissenting vote on the interim study committee.
Glick, an attorney with experience in family law, also served two terms as LaGrange County prosecutor. The judge in a criminal case is not allowed to step in and terminate parental rights, she said. There is no specific language that allows that.
The majority of members on the committee concluded that existing laws concerning paternity, protection orders and child support provide enough tools to deny contact between a rapist and a child conceived during the crime.
My argument was that a victim should not have to spend the next 18 or 19 years looking over their shoulder, Glick said. I wasnt very persuasive, obviously.
The committee wanted to avoid creating special legislation that would be applicable in only a few instances.
Its unlikely that state lawmakers could draft legislation that would fit perfectly every case. But they should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good when it comes to better protection of rape victims. Indiana needs a law that at least gives judges the authority to terminate the parental rights of rapists.