One of the signature causes for which I have fought hard during my tenure in the Assembly is preserving the rights of people who are victims of sexual abuse or attack. While it would seem logical that great care and consideration should be given to these victims, there are times when it appears as if these people are being victimized yet again.
To that end, I will soon be introducing legislation to amend the Domestic Relations Law to restrict the parental rights of sexual perpetrators when a child is born as a result of sexual offenses.
Imagine the horror of being raped or suffering some other form of sexual abuse. Now imagine the trauma that would result if you found out were pregnant as a result of this attack. Many women would terminate the pregnancy after what would likely be a long, painful decision-making process. However, there are many women who elect to see their pregnancy throughput and keep the child.
If a woman chooses to keep her child in New York State under these circumstances, the current law does not always sufficiently protect the woman from her attacker. The law provides that any person convicted of rape in the first degree has no right to be notified if the victim decides to put the baby, conceived as a result of the attack, up for adoption. The issue arises, though, if the attacker is convicted of an offense less than rape in the first degree.
More importantly, the law doesn’t restrict the attacker’s visitation or custody rights either. So the bottom line, right now, is that if a woman is attacked and a child is the result of that attack then the possibility exists that she would be forced to raise her child with the person who abused her.
Very often, sex offenders will threaten their victims with filing a visitation or custody petition in order to discourage them from pressing charges. These women have suffered enough. I can’t see any reason why any court in the land would allow this to happen. Yet if there is no law specifically prohibiting it then any ruling can be made and these women will be forced to live their attack over and over again.
Several years ago a woman named Shauna Prewitt was attacked in Missouri and got pregnant. She kept the child and was surprised/horrified to learn that her attacker was filing for custody of the child. The court saw the situation for what it was and terminated her attacker’s parental rights. The case received national attention, bringing a problem that not many people had considered to light.
However, the idea that she had to even fight to have his parental rights terminated is sad, scary, upsetting; pick whichever adjective you like.
I want this loophole closed. I want to prevent these monsters from ever harming the women they attacked again. This legislation is important. These women will carry enough emotional baggage for the rest of their lives and, in many cases, be reminded of it every time they look at their child. I want them to have some measure of peace.