Lawmakers Propose Bill To Prevent Rapists From Claiming Child Custody

Written by Kumar Ramanathan

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) held a press conference to explain their recently-introduced legislation designed to help rape survivors maintain full custody rights over their children. The lawmakers were joined by Shauna Prewitt, a rape survivor and victims’ rights advocate who was forced to endure the type of custody battle with her rapist that the bill seeks to prevent.

The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act would provide funding incentives to states that have laws allowing mothers of children conceived through rape to “seek court-ordered termination of the parental rights of her rapist.” These states would receive federal grant funding for programs authorized under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Currently, 31 states have no custodial rights protections for mothers of children conceived in rape. Of the 19 states that do have some protections, only six reach the standard advocated by the proposed bill. At the press conference, Prewitt explained that victims in this situation can often face a dynamic where their rapist threatens to pursue custodial rights over the child unless they drop their criminal charges.

Prewitt was speaking from personal experience. She made headlines last year when she wrote an open letter to Todd Akin — who became infamous during the 2012 election cycle for claiming that women cannot be impregnated from a “legitimate rape” — about becoming pregnant after being raped. As she pursued charges against her rapist months later, he suddenly filed for custody rights over her daughter, sending her into a long and expensive court battle.

An attorney, Prewitt wrote a paper for the Georgetown Law Journal on the issue, citing estimates that 32,000 rape-related pregnancies occur each year, where nearly a third of the women decide to raise their children. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) cited the same statistics, saying, “I think many people believe that people run off and have abortions and they can’t stand their children, but many of these women choose to raise their children. And the last thing that a woman who chooses to raise this child needs is the emotional and physical intervention in their parental rights.”

The proposed legislation provides incentives in the form of $5 million per year of grant funding for the next four years which will be used to bolster state funds for the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant. That grant supports law enforcement and prosecution strategies to combat violence against women, as well as the Sexual Assault Services Program, which provides direct intervention funding for victims of sexual assault.

The bill also encourages states to pass laws allowing survivors to petition for the termination of their rapists’ custodial rights as long as they can show that they had been raped under a “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Only six states currently have such laws, whereas thirteen others require criminal convictions for the rapist. That requires a stronger standard of evidence and can place survivors in long legal battles that may prove traumatizing.

Oregon, Missouri and Colorado have introduced or passed custodial rights protection laws for survivors in recent years, but did not include the “clear and convincing” standard promoted by the new legislation. Illinois passed a similar custodial rights bill in June which does use the lower standard. That legislation now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) signature.

This post was originally published at ThinkProgress.

Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jason J.
Jason J.1 years ago

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

what is so sad is that this is just now coming up in 2013, that we claim to be civilized yet a rapist can even attempt to get custody? This world is such a dismal place

Debrah Roemisch
Debrah Roemisch4 years ago

Another scary related issue is that criminals do NOT lose custody when they go to prison even for a violent felony. My daughters ex went to prison for shooting someone but she has to go to court to get full custody (they had joint custody) and to make sure he is only allowed supervised visitation when he gets out. It makes no sense to me that she had to come up with almost 2000.00 to pay an attorney to do this--she is a struggling single mom who obviously has not got any child support for the last 5 years! Sadly our court systems and laws favor violent evil people. In the case of rape--EC should always be offered to female victims who go to the hospital, rape center, or a MD--and should be easily accessed over the counter for females who were victims of someone they know and are afraid of reporting. Emergency contraception works to prevent conception so should not be a problem even for those who don't believe in abortion.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago


Jane Warren
Jane Warren4 years ago

A rapist should not get any custody rights, agreed. But what about having to pay child support? And/or other restitution - punitive damages, pain and suffering. She and the child should not be made to suffer financial hardship.

Cynthia B.
cynthia l4 years ago

wow I had no idea rapists had any parental rights. To laud this over a victim's head as a means to get them to drop the charges is morally reprehensible. Castration is not an answer as rape is seeded in a sick mind and not about sex but hate, power and control.

Malgorzata Zmuda
Malgorzata Zmuda4 years ago

Gwałcicieli do więzienia, a nie do opieki nad dziećmi.