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November 13, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Zachary Zysset of Lincoln, Nebraska was arrested recently for the sexual assault of a minor girl (Lincoln Journal Star, 11/6/16). Why do we care? Isn’t his just another in a seemingly endless string of criminal cases involving allegations of sexual offenses? It is, but what gives his case interest is the linked-to article’s description of what apparently occurred and what it leaves out.

In a nutshell, when he was 20 years old, Zysset and a 15-year-old girl had sex several times over a period of about four months in 2012. The girl conceived a child and gave birth and that’s when Zysset seems to have made the mistake that got him arrested.

A 25-year-old Lincoln man is charged with statutory rape after seeking paternity and winning joint custody of a child born four years ago to a 15-year-old girl.

From what I can gather, it seems that the girl had no intention of having Zysset prosecuted until he had the effrontery to take an interest in the child, filing a paternity suit and gaining shared child custody. Once he did that, he was a marked man.

Now, it’s about as clear as it can be that Zysset is guilty as charged. After all, the child’s paternity has now been established and its age as well as the mother’s are a matter of public record. Ergo, the state seems to have all the evidence it needs to prove sexual assault of a minor.

But the issue arises of whether one who commits such an offense should be permitted to also have custody of any resulting child. One of the major movements that’s passed mostly under the radar in the past couple of years has been the effort to get state legislatures to enact laws prohibiting rapists from having any form of parental rights.

On the surface of course, that has definite appeal. When we think of rape, we may assume it means the knife-wielding thug who slips into a woman’s house late at night and assaults her. In such a case, few will be upset if the rapist is denied parental rights to the child he fathered.

But what of statutory rape? When the 18-year-old has sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend, he technically commits a felony, but do we really believe there was no consent? The law says it’s impossible for the 16-year-old to consent, but most district attorneys understand that teenagers frequently do consent to sex. So if the 16-year-old girl becomes pregnant and carries the child to term, do we really want to tell her boyfriend that he can have no parental rights, take no share in the child’s care and upbringing? I don’t.

Given that Zysset and the girl had sex several different times over the course of several months, it seems likely that, however the law may assess her level of maturity and ability to consent, she certainly thought she did. Again, it looks like Zysset is clearly guilty as a technical matter, but prosecutors often turn a blind eye to cases like his. Is Zysset being punished more for claiming parental rights than having sex with a minor?

More interesting still is the way the same case would be treated if the sexes of the principals were reversed. This too we see frequently. When the adult is a woman and the minor is a boy, she is rarely punished in any serious way even when the age differences are much greater than the five years that separate Zysset and his paramour.

And when such a case crops up and the woman becomes pregnant, far from protecting the minor boy, the law forces him to pay child support for a child that the law of the same state says he was incapable of consenting to father. If that’s not inconsistent and sexist enough, we also never hear cries that the felonious woman should be denied parental rights because of her wrongdoing. Indeed, at least one bill that sought to deny parental rights to rapists was withdrawn based on the fact that, as written, it would have applied to women who rape boys. Clearly, such a thing wasn’t on the agenda of whoever backed the bill.

The Lincoln Journal Star article makes no reference to any of the many problems with statutory rape laws that have such unexpected and unjust consequences. Nor does it notice the frank anti-male sexism in the way those laws are applied. Nor does it mention that Zachary Zysset, whatever we may think of his having sex with an underage girl, has stepped up to the plate to take a role in the care of his child. And of course it has nothing to say about the apparent fact that the young woman is apparently using the criminal justice system to attempt to deny Zysset a relationship with his child and his child a relationship with its father.

 

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#statutoryrape, #childcustody, #sexism

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