Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Progress in the battle on rapist parental rights

Graphic via RAINN
Two years ago, we wrote:
In 31 states, a rapist can sue to obtain custody or visitation rights for the child conceived by his violence against the mother. 
I have to believe that these laws are simply the result of oversight. Perhaps these laws were written decades ago, when rape was a taboo topic and DNA testing was unknown, and legislators at the time simply didn't think to write in any particular provisions concerning rapists. As a result, rapists have the same rights as any other biological fathers. Once legislation is enacted, political inertia comes into play, and no reform comes until people start making real noise.
The time to make that noise is now. If there is any common ground between pro-lifers and pro-choicers, this is it! These outdated policies encourage abortion, threaten women's safety and sanity, expose children to needless instability and stress, and are just plain outrageous.
In some states, a rapist only loses custody if convicted of criminal charges, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute; by some estimates, only 5% of rapists are convicted. But in typical child custody matters that don't involve rape, the applicable standard for a parent's fitness to be involved in the child's life is "clear and convincing" proof, which is less stringent than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hope After Rape Conception—an organization co-founded by pro-life advocate Rebecca Kiessling, who was conceived in rape—works diligently to reform state laws on rapist custody, promoting model legislation to bring rape custody cases under the clear and convincing standard. They caught a break last year, when federal legislation passed that gives states financial incentives to enact reform. The latest state to consider reform is Hawaii:
Rape is one of the most under-prosecuted crimes, with less than 5 percent of rapes leading to convictions, according to the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office. The department says rapists may use the threat of pursuing custody to coerce survivors from pressing charges. ...
The Hawaii bill was introduced as part of Gov. David Ige’s legislative package for the 2016 session in response to federal law passed last year. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act of 2015 increases funding for states that that allow for termination of parental rights for sexual assault based on the “clear and convincing” standard.
Julie Ebato of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office said the state could get over $127,000 in additional funding. The department hasn’t figured out how it would use the money yet, but it could be used help victims by providing money for police, prosecutors and service providers.
For instance, Ebato said the money could help chip away at the Honolulu Police Department’s backlog of about 1,500 of untested rape kits. The kits contain specimens and DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims to be used as evidence.
Prevent coerced abortions, help rape-affected families, and test more rape kits? Win-win-win!

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