In May of 2013, Ariel Castro was arrested for kidnapping and holding three women hostage in his home for as long as a decade, raping them and in even impregnating one of his captives who then gave birth to the child of her captor.
Castro, who was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 1,000 years, made in only a few months before committing suicide in his jail cell. His crimes, however, brought to light another gruesome reality. In 31 states across the country, if a rapist impregnates a victim, he can sue for paternal rights.
Ohio wants to make that 30.
The Ohio legislature is about as divided as any in the country, with deep disagreements between the state’s Democrats and Republicans on nearly every issue. However, the House voted unanimously when it came to voting in favor of a bill to curb parental rights of a convicted rapist, in part because of Castro’s story. While in jail and preparing for trial, Castro asked for permission to have contact with the 6-year-old girl that he fathered with one of his kidnapping victims, a request that was denied as “inappropriate” by the judge.
The Ohio bill would codify these restrictions, and was crafted by Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio and Republican Rep. Rep. Kirk Schuring, bringing party members from across the aisle together for a rare common cause. The new law would “inhibit parental rights such as inheritance and consent to adoption for those men who plead guilty or are convicted of rape or sexual battery,” but still require the attackers to pay child support for the child they forced their victim to conceive, according to news reports.
The Castro case was obviously an extreme example, but sadly, a rapist trying to gain parental rights is more common than many believe. According to studies, one third of rape victims give birth if they get pregnant as a result of the attack.
That leaves a number of them potentially in the same situation as Shauna Prewitt, who was raped in college and later asked to provide partial custody to the man who raped her, according to CNN. Prewitt is now a custody attorney and advocating for laws against allowing rapists to have any custody over their children conceived in sexual assault.
Courts, however, seem oddly resistant. Take the case in Massachusetts where a judge not only advocated that a rapist have contact with the child of his then 14-year-old victim, but made it part of the rapist’s probation in his sentence. The victim and her family fought the order, noting that it mandated the victim establish and maintain a 16-year-old relationship with her attacker.
Just as forbidding those convicted of rape or sexual battery is a rare law that draws together bipartisan support, it also pulls together those in the women’s rights and anti-abortion rights camps. Both groups want to ensure that a person who chooses to carry a child to term after a sexual attack can do so without worrying about a continuing relationship with an attacker, or his potential ability to veto her decisions when it comes to parenting or adoption.
As Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life writes: “I have to believe that these laws are simply the result of oversight….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!”
Ohio has started the ball rolling on reforming these laws. Which state will be next?
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