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Rape victims can be forced into family court to defend custody

It seems like something that should be impossible, but it isn’t: A woman is raped and conceives a child during the rape. The rapist is convicted of the crime and the woman, whose religion prohibits abortion, gives birth to the child — then has to fight her rapist for custody of the child.

This is the reality that is facing at least one woman in Massachusetts. While this victim has gone public with her plight, there are likely countless others quietly facing the same trauma in the state’s family courts. While research is limited, studies indicate that more than 70 percent of rape victims who conceive eventually choose to give birth rather than abort the pregnancy.

Laws regarding rape victims who become pregnant during the assault vary widely from state to state. Some offer no protection to victims at all, while a few outright bar a convicted rapist from custody. Many states, like Massachusetts, fall somewhere in between.

The current law in Massachusetts was passed in 2014, and it appears to give women more protection than some other states — however, it isn’t without its critics because it actually provides rapists a clear forum that they can use to continue to harass and traumatize their victim.

The law allows a rapist to seek visitation and requires the judge to make a determination on the issue. The judge has to consider whether or not the child is of suitable age to have visitation, agree to the visitation, or visitation is in the child’s best interest. While this might seem to be an attempt to focus the issue on the child in a difficult legal balancing act, the end result is that women who choose to carry a child conceived in rape to term can be pulled into court every time their rapist files a motion seeking visitation or custody.

If the judge does allow visitation, that can force the victimized mother to have to co-parent with her rapist until her child is legally an adult — meaning that she may face 18 years of continued trauma. Dragging their victims into court over and over again also allows the rapist to continue to exert ongoing control over the victim.

If this is your situation, seek legal help as early as possible so that you can build a strong case against any paternity actions you may face.

Source: LifeNews.com, “Woman Bravely Rejected Abortion After Rape, Then the Rapist Sued for Parental Rights,” Michaiah Bilge, March 03, 2017

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