Byrd: Rape custody laws abhorrent


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This country is overflowing with laws and policies that are, to put it mildly, lousy, wrongheaded, detrimental, idiotic, destructive, ruinous, and just plain awful. On every issue from climate change to gun control to drugs, it seems that many of the laws of the land were written by individuals who take some type of sick pleasure in being totally ineffective.

However, there are only a limited number of laws and policies however which belong to a different category, a category which is much more acute and pernicious in their damage to society, the category of abhorrently disgusting laws and policies. Unfortunately, the state of Iowa (along with 30 other states) possesses such a policy, the protection of parental custody and visitation rights for rapists.

That’s right, the state of Iowa is part of a conglomeration of state governments that sanctions the rights of both convicted and accused rapists to claim and receive paternal rights over the children they have conceived via rape (an occurrence which the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates happens between 32,000 and 50,000 times per year, with about a third of mothers deciding to carry the child to term).

There are a few reasons why this policy is, to say the least, problematic. To begin with, it’s morally abhorrent. It not only allows rapists to continue to psychologically torture their victims by becoming an ever present and, to a certain extent, permanent fixture in their lives, but it also forces the children of these rapes to be raised by people who’ve shown that they have no qualms about committing sociopathic violations of another individuals’ rights. It amounts to state-sanctioned child endangerment. 

Also, on a pure practical law enforcement level, it’s just bad policy. As the Georgetown Law Journal has noted, accused rapists who have impregnated their victims will often “bargain” with them, exchanging dropped rape charges with the termination of any sort of paternal custody claims. Essentially, this policy creates a legalized extortion racket for rapists to exploit in order to evade punishment or justice of any meaningful kind.

Rape convictions are already shockingly low as it is, with only five out of every 100 rapists ever being slapped with felony convictions according to the U.S. Justice Department. To perpetuate a legal status quo that is already dreadfully impotent is not only immoral, but it also makes a mockery of the notion that the state actually cares about and actively seeks to prosecute rapists in a productive manner.

Now, there have been some faint legislative steps toward addressing this failure of American justice on a national level. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Democratic congresswomen from Florida and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has proposed the “Rape Survivor Child Custody Act” which would provide funding incentives to states which reform these harmful, archaic, custody laws.

This bill, however, has wallowed in committee, swept aside for other congressional obligations like not getting immigration reform passed and shutting down the government. In the meantime, on a local level, the Iowa Legislature ought to immediately bar rapists from having any sort of legitimate claim to paternal custody, because it is simply illogical for any society that at least pretends it is fair, just, and civil to “reward” the vile brutalization of women with custody rights to her child.

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