Ohio Allows Rapists to Sue Victims for Custody of the Child: Does Your State?
Today three Ohio State University students took 60,000 signatures to the office of State Senator John Eklund (R) in hopes that he will help push forward the stalled bill. The signatures come from people who don't want rapists to be able to sue their victims for custody or visitation of a child conceived via that rape. Think about that for a second. In 31 states, a rapist can sue the victim for custody and visitation of a resulting child. In 31 states, rape survivors can be forever tethered to their rapists. Forever. Ohio citizens and lawmakers want to see that change.
Sally Jo and Diana Senchery deliver the 60,000 signatures. Photo via WeAreUltraViolet.
Senate Bill 171, a proposal jointly sponsored by State Senator Nina Turner (D) and State Senator Charleta Tavares (D), looks to protect mothers—and thereby children—from being forever tied to their attacker.
“Senate Bill 171 will empower survivor parents by allowing them to file a court claim terminating the custodial rights of their attacker,” Senator Turner said during committee. “The bill would also ensure that survivor parents need not seek the approval of their rapist in order to place the child up for adoption, a request that would further enable the attacker to exert control over the life of the victim.”
While two other bills—Senate Bill 207 and House Bill 257—have similar intentions, but according to Karen Roland, the director of Ultraviolet where the online petition was hosted, Senate Bill 171 provides more protection for survivors.
I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the women who delivered the signatures today. Diana Senchery is a fourth year Public Health major at Ohio State University and the president of Choice USA on the campus. I asked her some questions about her involvement in this movement.
JH: What inspired you to get involved with this movement?
DS: Ultraviolet collected the petitions online. I signed it a couple weeks ago. They contacted Choice USA, I'm the president of our campus chapter. We have previously collaborated with Ultraviolet -- I delivered the Steubenville rape case petitions as well. So we were more than willing to collaborate. I joined Choice USA two years ago. I went to one of their conferences in the fall of 2012. I had a great time. It was a very powerful conference, meeting with other young people from the Midwest. I just wanted to get involved with them and that's how that got started.
JH: Have you found that people were surprised that rapists had the right to sue for custody? I was shocked!
DS: It was one of those things where I did not even know it existed. I feel like that's been a common reaction, the "Wait, what" reaction. I was very glad to hear that State Senator Nina Turner wanted to do something about it.
JH: Have you come up against any opposition to this bill -- from either voters or other lawmakers?
DS: I haven't! If there has been any negative reaction, it hasn't reached me. While we didn't get the opportunity to speak directly with Senator John Ecklund this morning, the staff member that received the petitions on his behalf was very welcoming.
JH: What's one thing you want people to know about this issue, if this is the first they've heard about it?
DS: I would want them to know that this is not limited to Ohio. 31 states allow for rapists to have these rights. It is not okay. We need to change this.
JH: As you said, 30 other states allow rapists certain rights as a father. What advice would you give to people who want to get involved in the movement to remove those rights?
DS: Write to their state senators and urge them to propose a similar bill. If it comes up in your state, sign petitions. We were lucky that our senators listened to the constituents. You can go on Ultraviolet's website and see if the other states have something similar. You can take it to your senator. Any person can do this, be involved."
She's right, of course. Every single one of us can be involved in changing this atrocity in our own states. Which states? According to research done by Daily Kos, this is a list of states that leave the loophole open for rapists to sue their victims for custody or visitation.
Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.
If you live in one of these states, I urge you to start writing letters. Survivors of rape don't need to be revictimized—for life—by their rapists. Rapists do not deserve rights as a father. These mothers and children deserve more; they deserve our support in getting this changed.
You can sign Ohio's petition here.
If you have been raped and need to talk, please visit RAINN.org or call them at 1.800.656.HOPE(4673). You are not alone.