Libertarian Perspective: Ohio needs to reassess motherhood from rapeWritten by Kenneth Sharp | | email@example.com
The breaking news out of Cleveland involving three young women held captive for as long as a decade brought back to my mind the story of another young woman from the Midwest, Chicago-area attorney Shauna Prewitt. On Oct. 4, I had the opportunity to hear Prewitt speak at the University of Toledo College of Law. The topic was motherhood through rape and the lack of protections for the mothers and their children. This is a topic Prewitt has firsthand experience with. While still in college, she was raped and became pregnant. Though conflicted at first, she decided to keep her child. At first glance it may not appear that these stories have much in common, but what they share is motherhood through rape.
At least one of the young women in Cleveland, Amanda Berry, is a mother; undoubtedly her captor will be found to be the father. Prewitt was shocked to learn then, as many of you also will be shocked to learn now, that fathers in rape cases have rights. This has a lot to do with our perception of rape and women who give birth to a child conceived by rape. First, it is important to see the child as the mother’s and not the rapist’s. I have seen, in the comments sections on the Cleveland story, well-intentioned people giving Berry credit for raising her rapist’s child. It is her child — conceived in rape, but her child, not the rapist’s. Nothing rightfully belongs to one who acquired it by force.
A second important change must come from our collective thinking about the “degrees” we place reflexively on victims of rape. As Prewitt pointed out, when the woman aborts we instinctively give her report of rape high credibility. If she chooses to place the baby for adoption, we still give her report great credibility. But if she keeps her child, some feel that the mother may have some other motivation and may not have been raped at all.
The degrees are also separated by the “stranger rape” prototype and the “acquaintance/date rape” prototype. The stranger rape report is highly credible, while the acquaintance or date rape is seen by some as more suspect, especially if a woman decides to keep the child. The problem is that the vast majority of women who are raped are not raped by a stranger. While the woman is not given the respect she deserves in telling her story, the male aggressor is given undue influence in her life and that of her child.
I have two examples to show how the legal system in America can favor the rapist over the mother. In the first, a 14-year-old girl was raped and brought the baby to term. She then sought to give the child up for adoption. She was legally required to notify the father, an adult. The court granted her motion to give up her rights to the child. The rapist kept his rights and sued her for support.
In the other example, a woman gave birth to twins after a date rape. The rapist learned of their existence and sued to establish paternity and get visitation. The woman was, at the time, living with a domestic partner and the rapist attempted to use her sexual orientation against her.
Prewitt listed Ohio as one of the many states that does not have overt protection for mothers of rape. Parental termination is the only sure answer. The legislature has not seen the issue as important yet. Perhaps the case in Cleveland will bring it to the forefront.
The State of Ohio may find ways to fast-track termination of parental rights to the father from this case, but it still leaves the fact that Ohio has no real protections for women who conceive through rape and decide to keep the baby. It is a black mark on our state and our legislators that this issue has not already been addressed.
Prewitt pointed to two states that have at least a start on the issue if our legislators need guidance, Missouri, where her own rape occurred, and Maryland. As usual, it will require a groundswell of citizen support to spur action.
I encourage those who wish to do more on this issue to read Prewitt’s own account at http://georgetown lawjournal.org/files/pdf/98-3/Prewitt.PDF and then contact their representatives, as I intend to do.
Email Kenneth Sharp at firstname.lastname@example.org.