Parental rights for rapists may be terminated

By Melissa Proulx
On February 14, 2014

A proposed piece of legislation could mean a change in the way the judicial system reacts to and treats victims of rape.

Last week, New Hampshire lawmakers considered a bill that would terminate parental rights for convicted rapists as well as limit the rights of those who have been tried and not convicted. As of right now, New Hampshire is one of 21 states that don't require termination upon, or even after, conviction. This change in legislation would potentially help those who are currently dealing with relevant cases in court, as well as the one out of every four women who falls victim to sexual assault each year.

According to Shauna Prewitt, a national voice for these complicated issues who spoke to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 4, the maintenance of the current law has to do with the way the country views and treats women who become pregnant after rape.

Prewitt is considered a national expert on the subject, as she has both professional and personal experience with this sort of legislation.

While in law school, she wrote a paper on the issue that was eventually published in the Georgetown Law Journal advocating ending parental rights for convicted rapists. She said that the change in legislation would only match those standards of the legislation dealing with the other choices that a woman can make in regards to her baby. 

"We know that a woman [who has been raped] has ultimately three choices once she find out she's pregnant," Prewitt said. "A lot of states have legislation that help with termination and adoption, but when it came to women who were raising their child, I was really surprised to find out that far fewer states had protections in place for them."

Prewitt's desire to take action also came from her own experiences. Prewitt herself was raped while in college and learned shortly after that she was pregnant. After deciding to keep her baby she attempted to move on with her life. But in one last final attack, her rapist, who had not yet been convicted, attempted to gain full custody of their child.

In the end, Prewitt made a deal not to testify against him if he agreed to terminate his parental rights.

During her speech Prewitt estimated there are 8,000 to 11,000 out of 25,000 to 32,000 victims of rape who choose to keep their baby. By changing the legislation already in place, Prewitt believes lawmakers will be helping to prevent a case like this from happening in the future.

The law, according to Prewitt and Amy Culp, director of the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) at UNH, would also have another large impact: it would also change the way society views victims of rape.

Both women believe that the current legislation only reflects the current unconscious suspicion of women that choose to keep their baby, and the pressure put on victims not to come forward and share their story.

"You have to get past the victim-blaming," said Culp, who has a feminist and social work background from the work she did before coming to the university. "Society is not great, but the victim is always hardest on themselves. Rape should be seen as the violent crime that is it and women shouldn't have to justify it."

"Legislators are realizing more and more that this is a decision that women make," Prewitt said, echoing Culp's words. "We really need to watch the way we talk about women who have been raped and become pregnant. Words have power and we can easily restrict the ways we can help them."

Currently, Vermont is also considering similar amendments to their legislation as well.

Anyone looking for more information about sexual assault, as well as the many preventative events held on campus, can contact SHARPP at (603) 862-3493 or visit their website at http://www.unh.edu/sharpp/.


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