Should rapists be granted custody of children they father through rape?
The New Mexico House of Representatives unanimously said no, voting 58-0 on Feb. 12 to allow a mother to revoke the parental rights of her child’s biological father if he has been convicted of raping the mother.
New Mexico State Rep. Conrad James, R-24th District, the sponsor of House Bill 50, said the bill “protects mothers and their children from suffering continued harm after a sexual assault” and “offers a measure of compassion by allowing survivors of rape to sever all ties with the person who assaulted them.”
A similar bill, also sponsored by James, previously died in the New Mexico State Senate.
While this bill is undoubtedly an excellent step in the right direction, the requirement of a rape conviction means that too many mothers and their children will fall through the legislative cracks.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), only 46 of every 100 rapes are ever reported to police, and only five out of 100 lead to a felony conviction.
This means 95 percent of rape cases result in no conviction, leaving a huge number of families at risk of being forced by the courts to have continued contact with people who raped and traumatized them.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only in cases of children fathered through rape that mothers and their children are forced into such continued harmful contact.
Domestic abusers are too often able to manipulate judges, lawyers and other people so they can continue having contact with their children, which poses immense dangers to the children.
According to the American Bar Association, abusive parents are more likely to seek sole custody than non-abusive parents, and they are granted sole custody about 70 percent of the time.
The ABA also cites research showing domestic violence against a parent is “a strong predictor of child abuse.”
According to domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft, the risk of child abuse by abusive individuals “appears to increase rather than decrease when the couple separates.”
Our courts are failing to protect children by continuing to force them to have contact with dangerous abusers.
Protecting children and their mothers from convicted rapists is not enough.
Law enforcement and the courts must become better at identifying, understanding and convicting both rape and domestic abuse offenders, but even this is not enough.
Our courts and everyone who works in them must be better educated about domestic abuse, who perpetrates it, how they perpetrate it and why.
Our legal and justice systems must also involve domestic abuse experts, victims and survivors in policy making to a much greater degree than they do now.
Unless this happens, courts will continue to hand over helpless children to dangerous abusers.
No one who has been assaulted, abused or traumatized should be forced to continue seeing their abuser or assailant — especially not children.