Parental rights for rapists?

Sometimes a thing just seem so undeniably wrong that we assume there is a law against it, if there is even a need for a law. Such is the case with the issue of a rapist seeking parental rights to a child conceived by his crime. But a case in Alabama, where a woman is fighting in court to keep the step-uncle who raped her at the age of 15 from gaining custody of the child that rape conceived, is bringing it to light. And the light is shining on Minnesota, which also has no law preventing a rapist from gaining custodial rights to his offspring.

Minnesota does have a law that requires someone convicted of serious crimes, including sexual assault, incest or murder, to prove in court that it is in the best interest of the child they they have custody, but there is no law preventing a rapist from seeking custodial rights.

State Sen. Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, has introduced a bill to prevent that in the past, but it fell by the wayside for various reasons. She plans to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session. We think it should be swiftly and overwhelmingly approved.

This issue is complicated. Not all rapes are reported. Those that are reported don’t always result in a conviction. Should only convicted rapists be banned from seeking custody?

Dziedzic’s bill would allow courts to terminate parental rights in the face of “clear and convincing” proof that the child was conceived through an act of rape or incest. That is a legal definition that is not as stringent as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for a criminal conviction.

This past year the Minnesota Legislature passed a law removing a loophole that prevented prosecution for spousal rape. It is continuing to study issues on the way Minnesota law enforcement and courts investigate and prosecuted cases of reported sexual assault. It should make the issue of parental rights for rapists part of that conversation.

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