Alabama Rapists Could Get Custody Of The Babies They Get To Force Their Victims To Have
While other states that have recently passed anti-abortion legislation are putting themselves in danger of losing a significant amount money from tourists, the state of Alabama might just have a way of reeling in some new ones. Unfortunately, those tourists will be particularly terrifying rapists, but hey! It's money, right? Get it where you can!
Like several other states that have lost their goddamn minds, Alabama recently passed a law banning all abortions, without any exceptions for victims of rape or incest. This means that if you go to Alabama, rape someone, and get them pregnant, you get to rape them a second time by forcing them to give birth to your child. Then, if you're really, really sadistic, you can take your victim to court and sue them for your parental rights.
Even if you've been convicted? Like, in a court of law? YOU BET! Yes, you can go to jail, get out of jail, and then get to have a relationship with the child you forced upon an unwilling victim, and force them to be tied to you in some capacity for the next 18 years of their life.
Given that rape is a crime of power, this is obviously a particularly enticing scenario for some prospective assailants.
Alabama is one of only two states, the other being Minnesota, that has no laws preventing a rapist from suing for custody. Although the US Congress passed the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act in 2015, that only grants funding to help sexual assault survivors in states that allow parental rights terminations based on "clear and convincing evidence" that the child was a product of rape. About half of the states have this standard, which is less strict than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard applied in criminal court.
For instance, if you are a 15-year-old victim and the father of your child is your adult uncle, that is pretty clear and convincing evidence. But if you are in Alabama ... not so much!
That was the case for Jessica Stallings, who said she was 12 when her mother's half-brother began climbing into her bed at night.
Before she turned 18, she had endured four pregnancies. The first ended in miscarriage, and one son died of a disease more likely to occur in cases of incest.
Then her family forced her to marry her uncle, she said.
Ms Stallings later fled, and a court deemed the marriage illegal because of a "familial relationship".
She built a stable home in Fort Payne, Alabama, for her sons, now 15 and 12. But in the winter of 2017, she discovered that she was not yet free of the man she calls "Uncle Lenny".
Despite DNA tests that proved incest, he maintained parental rights to the boys and fought Ms Stallings for visitation. A judge ruled he was entitled to see them for three days during Christmas.
Well that sure is horrifying. And to make matters worse, Ms. Stallings's uncle is currently out on bail after being charged with possession of methamphetamine and Suboxone. Her 12-year-old son was in the car with him at the time of the arrest, and his parental rights have still not yet been terminated. Can you even imagine?
Other states allow termination of parental rights by rapists, but only if the rapist is actually convicted, which is difficult itself given how rarely rapists are actually convicted of their crimes. Also, in many of these cases, the person needs to be convicted of first degree rape — so if they cop a plea to a lesser charge, they can still fight for custody.
Wyoming used to have the "clear and convincing evidence" standard, but got rid of it this past spring out of fear that it could be used by evil women to cut off parental rights to innocent men in contentious divorce proceedings.
There have been, unfortunately, many cases of rapists getting custody over children they fathered. There was even an SVU episode about it back in 2013. (Remember? The one where the rapist argued that his victim couldn't have gotten pregnant if she were raped, Todd Akin style, and then won custody and the victim ran off and had to become a fugitive from the law in order to protect her child from him?) Victims in many states have been through hell and back.
Speaking to The Establishment in 2018, Wendy Lubin, a Florida woman in the middle of a custody battle with her own rapist, described the horror of not being able to be rid of him.
"My daughter has spent zero time with him, but at any time in her life, he can claim to seek a relationship and time with her. He is within his rights to fully communicate with me under the guise of co-parenting and visitation.
"I do not have the luxury of cutting contact with my rapist due to his parental rights by the very state of Florida. What the legal system has done has ruined my integrity, ruined my dignity, ruined my personhood rights."
Imagine trying to get over something as traumatizing as a rape when forced to deal with your rapist for the next 18 years of your life? It is beyond cruel.
"When I spend hours negotiating child custody with him, I feel chained. I can scrub the disgust off my body but it becomes a different type of personal hell to repeatedly face your rapist. This is torture in the most sinister form."
Another woman, called Noemi, told The Establishment of going through this ordeal in Nebraska:
Although parental rights vary state by state, in Nebraska, a rape conviction is needed to terminate them. This meant Noemi's assailant would have had his parental rights terminated if he'd been convicted of sexual assault in the first degree (categorized as sexual penetration without the victim's consent). However, as he was convicted of third degree assault (categorized as the offender causing serious personal injury to victim), he was able to share custody and parenting decisions.
Visits with his daughter started out supervised, at a half hour every other Saturday. The emotional toll Noemi faced, however, increased when the visits became unsupervised. She is devastated by the lack of protection U.S. law offers her: "It feels hopeless right now. Like there isn't a way out of the situation."
This should not be a thing to begin with, but the idea of it happening in a state where a victim has no choice but to have the child of her assailant is ... are there words for what that is? I'm not sure there are words. It's horrifying for the victim and likely dangerous for the child. I don't know about you, but if I had a kid, I sure as hell wouldn't want them hanging around a rapist, supervised or not.
Apparently the state of Alabama has a different idea.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse