I was Louisiana’s first special assistant on women’s policy, advising the governor and presenting the governor’s proclamation for domestic violence awareness month. Then I was raped. It was 2003.
After I became pregnant as a result of the attack, I did not want to think of myself as a victim. I chose to carry my pregnancy to term. It gave me hope that I was not completely broken and destroyed. But it was my personal decision to have my daughter and raise her.
I did not expect to feel the horror and shock that came years later, in 2010, when my rapist tried to claim custody of my child.
My rapist was never convicted for what he did to me. When the day came that I was served with court papers on his behalf, I was terrified of the danger this posed for my child, who had no idea what I would have to go through to protect her.
Gathering strength from and for my daughter
I had no war chest of finances to sustain a court battle. There was no law in place in our new home state of Florida at the time to protect us. Thankfully, the judge decided that my rapist would have no contact with my daughter without first having a full evidentiary hearing on how I was assaulted and became pregnant.
A parent’s worst nightmare: I thought sexual abuse only happened to other people’s children. Then I woke up.
Each moment I had with her — playing, singing, enjoying her school activities — could be destroyed by the thought or occurrence of a court hearing. Every day for more than two years, I wanted to return to those moments of blissfully building sandcastles at the beach and chasing each other around at the park without this shadow hanging over us. Those good days and our nighttime story reading, snuggled up close with our hugs and kisses, gave me strength for the next day.
After two years, the terror finally ended and I won. During that time, I researched the rapist parental right policies in other states, and drafted a model law for Florida.
In one hearing, the judge asked me whether there was anything, any law, even a federal one, to prevent my daughter from being judicially forced into a relationship with my rapist. I responded, “Not yet your honor, I am still working on it.”
I did not want anyone else to go through this nightmare. I wanted laws put in place protecting rape survivors and their children. I was repeatedly told that a rapist father is as good as any other father under the law in Florida. That’s not true there. It isn’t true anywhere.
Convictions can’t be necessary
It is critical that the legal standard for prohibiting the parental rights of rapists is “clear and convincing evidence.” This is because termination of parental rights are civil cases, not criminal.
Clear and convincing evidence that could be introduced in a court case includes material like medical records, trauma counseling and therapy records, as well as the testimony of witnesses who were told of the sexual assault after it occurred.
It is the highest burden of proof in civil court. We do not require convictions for termination of parental rights for such reasons as child abuse, neglect and habitual drug offenses.
A choice girls shouldn’t have to make: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.
Since the passage in 2015 of the federal Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which provides a financial incentive to states to pass laws to terminate parental rights of a rapist with clear and convincing evidence, there are a number of states who receive this benefit from the Department of Justice.
Currently, just 30 states allow the termination of parental rights of rapists who conceive a child, while others just put restrictions in place. Many states still require the conviction of the sexual assault. If your state requires a conviction of the sexual assault, I challenge you to reform it. Demand that your lawmakers reform it — including situations of domestic violence and marital rape. We cannot keep allowing the laws of your state to keep women and children chained to a rapist.
In all of these efforts, I am motivated by how much I love my child, how much I love all my children — not by the crime that occurred. Love doesn’t run out of strength to keep going, but pain and fear do. I don’t have the right to turn my back on rape victims and their children and pretend I don’t know better.
As I learned back in law school, I can seek peace through justice. Failing to make good laws out of ignorance is not something our society can continue to justify.
In this debate over abortion laws and whether there should be exceptions for rape victims, women who kept their children and women who did not must not be pitted against each other. We are not enemies; we are both survivors. Do not use us as political pawns in an attempt to grab power. We have been through enough.
Analyn Megison works in the financial sector and is an advocate for rape survivors and their children. Follow her on Twitter @analynmegison