The latest push against fathers’ rights comes from articles like this one (My Fox Boston, 9/26/12). When a woman is raped, becomes pregnant and bears the child, her assailant is not automatically denied parental rights. Indeed, if a court orders him to pay child support, he’s pretty much guaranteed some form of limited contact with the child. If he has parental responsibilities, he has parental rights as well. That’s what a judge in Washington ordered just a few months ago to outraged cries from all quarters. Now something similar has happened in Massachusetts.
On the surface of course, who could argue with those who speak out against “rapists getting parental rights.” The very concept seems outrageous, but, as with so much that’s said and done about fathers, there’s more there than meets the eye.
For example, the man in Washington had been convicted of rape, but he’d served his time, paid his debt to society. Should he automatically lose his parental rights? Or should he be entitled to prove his worth as a father? It’s true that some states take away a felon’s right to vote even after she’s completed her sentence, an additional punishment of which I’ve always disapproved. After all, the very concept of incarceration for a limited period of time suggests that punishment shouldn’t last forever. So why take her voting rights away forever? And if we take away voting rights, why not other rights? Why not take away the right to speak publicly or to follow the faith of one’s choice?
So there’s now a nascent movement to automatically revoke the parental rights of rapists. Should we do that? After all, there’s more than just the offender’s rights to be considered. Even though he once did a bad and illegal act, should that automatically mean that a child shouldn’t have a relationship with its father? Once he’s paid his debt to society, shouldn’t the man be given the opportunity to prove, like every other parent in the country, that he’s a fit parent? Having once committed an illegal act is no guarantee that he’s not. In fact, there are a good number of organizations around the country dedicated to helping ex-cons reconnect with their children.
So far I’ve been using the words “rape” and “rapist,” and I suspect most readers will assume some element of coercion on the part of the man against the woman that overcame her ability to refuse to participate in sex. But the linked-to article makes clear that those who would deny parental rights to all men who could be said to have raped a woman do not limit the idea to coerced or forced rape. The article deals with a Bay State man who, at age 20, had sex with a 14 year old girl.
The attorney for the man who admitted raping the teenager would not comment on his client’s fight for visitation rights. But he did claim the relationship was consensual, even though he acknowledged it was inappropriate, given the victim was only 14 and his client was 20.Of course the law assumes that boys and girls under a certain age aren’t mature enough to give consent to sex, so the element of consent is removed from “statutory rape” laws. But there’s certainly a difference between a man who holds a gun to a woman’s head and demands sex, and a 19 year old male making love with his 17 year old girlfriend. The law may impute a lack of consent in the latter case, but no law and no judge would demand the same sentence for the latter “perp” as the former.
So it’s noteworthy that those opposing the parental rights of the Massachusetts man don’t hesitate to use the word “rape” at every opportunity. And that includes the article itself that only incidentally mentions the fact that the case involves, not a gun to the head, but sex between an underage girl and a 20 year old man, sex that he says she agreed to. Whatever happened between the two, the point is that anti-fathers’ rights advocates are attempting to elide the difference between forced and underage sex. The law doesn’t do so and neither does common sense, but the anti-father forces draw no such distinction. Their goal looks more like the continued marginalization of fathers in children’s lives than legitimate concern for women or children.
Mark my words, soon enough, state legislatures will be asked to, without exception, revoke the parental rights of men who are convicted of rape, including cases of adult male/underage female sex like the one in Massachusetts.
If that happens, it’ll be interesting to see if the proposed bills are gender-neutral. Will the many women who have sex with underage boys and become pregnant be deprived of their parental rights as well? Will they give birth and have the child taken from them and handed to the high school freshman they had sex with? I don’t believe it for a second, so we’ll see where the arc of this most recent trend against fathers and children might be. Come to think of it, where were these people the last time an adult female teacher had sex with a high school boy, got pregnant and had the child? It’s not an uncommon occurrence, but I’ve never heard the cry go up to remove these children from their “rapist” mothers. Nor do I expect to.
Don’t get me wrong, if a father’s unfit to care for his child, he shouldn’t be allowed to. The same holds true for mothers. But fathers and mothers alike should be judged fit or unfit based on their parenting ability, dedication and love for their children, and not on other factors that may or may not have anything to do with parental fitness. Children need their fathers, even sometimes fathers who’ve committed criminal wrongdoing in the past. To say that a father who raped the mother should, without the ability to show his fitness as a parent, lose his parental rights, would be to open the door to limitless other offenses deemed appropriate for the same purpose. Armed robbery, anyone?