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Monday, September 03, 2012

Ind. Law - "No rights for rapists" Editorial calls for new law

From an editorial published August 28th in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

Most Hoosiers were as shocked as legislators earlier this year when they learned that in Indiana, rapists retain parental rights over children conceived by their violent crime. State lawmakers are finding it nearly impossible to right this blatant wrong. But it can be done. At least one other state shows what at a minimum is possible.

In Indiana, if a rape victim who became pregnant because of sexual assault chooses to give birth, she can find herself being victimized by her rapist a second time when he seeks parental visitation rights or even custody. It’s revolting, but rapists retain their rights in at least 27 states, including Indiana.

In January, Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, sponsored Senate Bill 190 that would deny parental rights to rapists “if a court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person perpetrated the rape.” He proposed the legislation after a constituent told him her rapist was seeking custody of her child.

Despite making an exception if the rapist was married to his victim, the legislation failed. Because lawmakers from both parties had many questions, they sent the issue to an interim study committee. And on Wednesday the committee voted 7-1 to do nothing.

It happened to Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago lawyer and a native of Missouri. She wrote a book about how her attacker was able to use the legal system to victimize her a second time by seeking child visitation rights. Her book is called “Giving Birth to a Rapist’s Child: A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape.” * * *

At least Missouri allows the court to intervene to terminate rapists’ parental rights, something Indiana should do as well and do in the coming legislative session.

“If there’s a conviction, there ought to be a step the victim can take to protect themselves and the child,” said Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, who cast the only dissenting vote on the interim study committee.

Glick, an attorney with experience in family law, also served two terms as LaGrange County prosecutor. “The judge in a criminal case is not allowed to step in and terminate parental rights,” she said. “There is no specific language that allows that.”

The majority of members on the committee concluded that existing laws concerning paternity, protection orders and child support provide enough tools to deny contact between a rapist and a child conceived during the crime.

“My argument was that a victim should not have to spend the next 18 or 19 years looking over their shoulder,” Glick said. “I wasn’t very persuasive, obviously.”

The committee wanted to avoid creating special legislation that would be applicable in only a few instances.

It’s unlikely that state lawmakers could draft legislation that would fit perfectly every case. But they should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good when it comes to better protection of rape victims. Indiana needs a law that at least gives judges the authority to terminate the parental rights of rapists.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 3, 2012 09:08 AM
Posted to Indiana Law