“It’s an unbelievable thing,” said Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, referencing current PA laws that allow a convicted rapist to maintain parental rights over a child conceived through rape.
State Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Representative Joe Hackett (R-Delaware) are introducing the Rape Survivor Child Custody and Support Act in the Senate and House, respectively. Under this legislation, courts can terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist while maintaining the rapist’s obligation to pay child support.
Vulakovich says this will close a large loophole in Pennsylvania law that is potentially damaging to sexual assault survivors.
“If a victim of a rape decides to keep a child who was conceived because of the result of a rape, she could be forced under state law to constantly interact with a rapist on a regular basis if he demands visitation rights,” Vulakovich said.
Currently a rapist’s parental rights are only terminated pending adoption of the child, in which case the offender is no longer required to pay child support.
Houser says the PA Coalition Against Rape has witnessed the effects of this legal “loophole” first hand.
“We’ve had calls from women who are exasperated,” Houser said. “The callers will feel like…’I’ve done everything right, I’ve done all the things I was supposed to do, and now I find out that he’s petitioning for visitation.’”
According to the most recent data, a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, approximately 320,000 women become pregnant as a result of rape. However, roughly one third of those pregnancies are terminated.
Houser says there are no clear statistics on pregnancy from rape in Pennsylvania. She also said few rapists try to pursue their visitation rights. State courts have the power to prevent unfit parents from claiming their visitation rights for several reasons, including crimes against the other parent.
“This isn’t necessarily the result of egregious things happening on a regular basis here in Pennsylvania,” Houser said, “but it doesn’t matter if it’s happening to a lot of people or just a few. It shouldn’t be happening at all.”
Vulakovich is currently seeking co-sponsorships for his legislation, which he estimates could go to the governor’s desk sometime in April.