Red-shaded states in the map above restrict parental rights of rapists. (Source: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
At least five states are weighing making it harder for rapists to get parental rights.
In three states, the proposals would tighten existing limits, while bills in Vermont and Ohio would impose restrictions that do not currently exist there, according to December data compiled by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which advocates for victims of sexual assault. In 32 states, the parental rights of rapists can be limited in some way, according to that RAINN data. Eighteen states and D.C. do not currently allow such restrictions.
The vast majority of states that do restrict the rights of rapists require criminal convictions, though some—and some proposed bills—would allow courts to restrict rights in cases where “clear and convincing” evidence is found. (That legal standard is a common and relatively stringent one.) Opponents say it’s unfair to remove the rights in cases where individuals haven’t been found guilty of rape. But proponents point to the statistics surrounding rape. About 2 in 3 rapes were not reported to police between 2006 and 2010, according to a Justice Department analysis. Even among those who do report the crime, convictions are often hard to secure because evidence can be hard to produce.
Here’s how proposals in each of the five states would change current law:
The bills in Ohio’s House and Senate were prompted by Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who made international headlines for kidnapping and raping three women over a decade. His request for visitation rights with a six-year-old daughter born of one of those rapes was denied by a judge before Castro killed himself.
“Ohio is allowing assailants to continue to torment their victims rather than protecting survivors and their children,” Sen. Nina Turner (D), who sponsored the Senate bill, said according to local reporter Marc Kovac. The House version of the proposal was passed unanimously in mid-January.
A Vermont House proposal requires only that a court find “clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault or sexual exploitation” and not that the alleged rapist be convicted. It passed the state House on Friday with no opposition.
Rapists can use parental rights to coerce their victims into silence, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Michele Fay (D) said, according to journalistic watchdog VTDigger.org.
“This bill really is for those victims who are struggling within the context of a marriage or another intimate partner relationship and need to see their way out,” Fay said. Statistics show that many rapes are perpetrated by individuals who know their victims. Victims will still be able to seek child support under the proposal.
Under existing Nebraska law, individuals convicted of first-degree sexual assault lose parental rights, but a new proposal would extend that prohibition to those convicted of lesser second- and third-degree assaults, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
Bills in Washington state’s House and Senate would allow courts to revoke parental rights of accused rapists in light of “clear and convincing evidence” that a child was born as the result of non-consensual sex. But that allowance has stalled the bills, according to a recent Seattle Times report.
State law currently allows victims to put children up for adoption without the rapist’s consent, but the bills would go further in allowing victims to refuse child support from rapists in addition to restricting their parental rights.
A proposed bill in New Hampshire would similarly allow the restriction of rights without a conviction and also change current law from simply allowing courts to revoke a rapist’s parental rights to requiring it to do so.