Imagine having to face your rapist on a regular basis for 18 years all because you share a child together–a child conceived during that rape. Worse, your right to the custody of your child could be challenged by your rapist and there’s no law to prevent him from dragging you into court over and over again regarding parenting issues.
That’s a reality for women who live in one of the states without laws designed to protect victims and stop rapists from claiming parental rights over their offspring. Despite legislative efforts to pass a bill that would change this, Maryland is still one of those states.
Even in states with laws designed to protect victims of rape from having to negotiate child visitation and custody with their rapists, there are often holes in the laws that don’t reflect the reality of the situation. Many state laws require the rapist to be convicted of the crime before the law kicks in. Given that only about 12 percent of rapes even result in an arrest, and not all of those arrests result in a conviction, the laws only offer protection to a very few women.
Legislative efforts in Maryland have been focused on trying to give the Court the right to prevent a rapist from exercising parental rights under the standard used in civil Court; the Court would only have to be 51 percent sure the rape occurred, based on the “preponderance of evidence” rule. That’s far lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” rule used in criminal Court.
What does this mean in practical terms for the Maryland victim of a rape who conceives during the assault? If she decides to carry the baby to term, she could be put in the position of having to negotiate with her rapist. If he’s currently facing charges, he may put a price tag on his willingness to give up his parental rights by asking her not to testify against him. If he’s facing child support obligations, he may demand visitation and then offer to drop the demand in exchange for not having to pay the support.
Surviving a rape is hard enough without having to negotiate directly with your rapist. For many women in this situation, an attorney can provide an invaluable buffer and guidance during this troubling time. For more information on our services surrounding child custody and visitation disputes, please visit our page.
Source: CNN, “Where rapists can gain parental rights,” Breeanna Hare and Lisa Rose, Nov. 17, 2016