I’ll never forget her painful story:
She was at a party,
started to feel sick,
fell asleep on a couch,
and sometime later woke up to being raped.
Tragically this story told to me through tears by a college student is not isolated. I routinely meet women who have been victimized in such a brutal and indescribable way, whether in university, or years prior as young children molested, and I have come to realize that sexual abuse is far more prevalent than I thought.
And so, I was outraged to learn that the victimized women I meet, if they were in 1 of 31 states, may have to face another victimization: According to a recent CNN news story, “men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy.”
What has become of our society when we give to aggressors instead of take away? A rapist has shown himself unfit to be a father, for a father protects and defends the vulnerable, not violates them.
As Dr. King once said, “Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” So what are we doing allowing a monster to visit an innocent child? What are we doing traumatizing innocent women who should be protected from future encounters with such a monster? What are we doing depriving rape victims of the solace of knowing other women will be protected from what they themselves were not?
Rape-victim Shawna Prewitt became a lawyer to fight this insanity. In an act of courage and selflessness, she carried to term, and chose to parent, her pre-born daughter whose life in no way was devalued by its horrific beginning. Understandably appalled by the law she herself was hurt by, Prewitt laments, “When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these [custody/visitation] rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.”
Showing yet again how much she focuses on her child, Prewitt remarks, “For the sake of her child, the woman will sacrifice her need to see her once immensely powerful perpetrator humbled by the court.” Of course, that’s only because, she says, “When faced with the choice between a lifetime tethered to her rapist or meaningful legal redress, the answer may be easy, but it is not painless.”
But shame on anyone who makes it either/or. Surely we can grant victims of such brutality the guarantee that it is possible to ensure meaningful legal redress and ensure there is no lifetime tethered to one’s rapist.
A message must be communicated loud and clear: A rapist has no right to a woman’s body, nor does a rapist have any right to a child his sperm helped create.