Right now, if a woman is sexually assaulted and becomes pregnant as a result, the father of the child can sue for parental rights. State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles doesn’t think that makes any sense and is sponsoring a bill to change it.
But the bill has become controversial because it wouldn’t require that the rapist be convicted of a crime before losing parental rights.
That’s deliberate – the reason Kohl-Welles doesn’t require a conviction is that most victims don’t prosecute.
So instead, the bill allows for a civil hearing to take place where the individual can make a case for not having any child custody or visitation granted to the suspect.
In this approach, Kohl-Welles said she thinks it’s much better when there would still have to be a very high standard – not necessarily a criminal standard, but the same standard that’s used for proof in family courts in the termination of family rights, in cases that involve child abuse and neglect.
I asked Kohl-Wells if that meant a woman could go to civil court and say, ‘This man assaulted me, I want to make sure he doesn’t have any rights to visit the child that resulted from that,’ and would the father have any chance to respond to the accusations?
“He would and it would be a judicial determination that would be made,” said Kohl-Welles. “I understand that some people say there should be a conviction, some people make this up (about sexual assaults) […] My point though is that requiring convictions means we’re very likely to not get any decision made at all.”
One of the complications arising from the bill is if the state wants to go after the man or the father for child support. So in cases like this, where the woman gets a civil court ruling that the father has no parental rights, does the state still go after him for child support?
Kohl-Welles isn’t as sure about that situation, but said it would be interesting to see.
There are ten states that already do what this bill would do: Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
“But (those states) have found that this is important to do, and not requiring that a rapist has to be convicted before the parental rights are terminated,” said Kohl-Welles.
Nationwide, as many as 32,000 pregnancies result from sexual assault each year.
MyNorthwest.com’s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.