Ohio law generally provides that whether married or unmarried, a child’s parents each have the right to exercise parenting time with that child. However, a bill currently stalled in Ohio’s courts would deny rapists parental rights to a child conceived through the assault. Senate Bill 171 addresses sex crimes resulting in pregnancies and would ensure perpetrators are denied visitation and other privileges.
State Sens. Nina Turner (D) and Charleta Tavares (D) introduced SB 171 in January. The bill would allow victims to file court claims terminating the parental rights of their attackers. It would also permit a woman to place her child up for adoption without having to seek her attacker’s approval.
Turner told the members of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, “Ohio is allowing assailants to continue to torment their victims rather than protecting survivors and their children.”
As the law stands in Ohio and 30 other states, a man who impregnates a woman through rape can successfully sue her for child custody and visitation rights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 32,000 assaults result in pregnancy each year.
Although SB 171 has been stalled in the Ohio State Senate since its introduction, a second but related bill blocking rapists from child custody passed unanimously in the House. Sponsored by Reps. Nickie Antonio (D) and Kirk Schuring (R), House Bill 257 prohibits courts from granting parental rights and terminates all previously granted parental rights to convicted rapists, while still requiring rapists to pay child support. It passed in the Ohio House of Representatives in mid-January and has been referred to the Senate.
“Both of these bills deserve to be vetted through the legislative process so that survivors in Ohio have the strongest set of protections possible,” Turner told Huffpost.
“Today, Ohio is one of 31 states lacking laws barring rapists from claiming child custody and visitation options available to parents,” Turner also said to members of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. “In cases where the attacker decides to sue for these privileges, hope for a sympathetic judge is the only defense a survivor has.”
The bills in Ohio’s House and Senate were prompted in part by the late Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who earned a 1,000-year sentence for holding hostage and raping three women in his home for more than a decade. His request for visitation rights with a six-year-old daughter fathered by sexual assault was denied before Castro killed himself.
“I just think that would be inappropriate,” Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo said when he delivered the decision in February.
Ultraviolet, a national organization advocating women’s rights, has collected more than 60,000 signatures to urge Ohio legislators to take action on SB 171. Karen Roland, campaign director for Ultraviolet, said more than half of rapes are never reported and the bill offers those rape survivors more protection than the other two bills pending in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “The bill allows a survivor to file a new claim in court identifying the rapist as the parent of the child and allow a judge to review evidence and rule on the claim,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
“Ninety-seven percent of rapists never spend a single day in jail,” Roland said. “The reality is survivors need more protection and requiring them to clear this hurdle of requiring a conviction just doesn’t work.”
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