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Monday, December 1, 2014

Terminating Parental Rights of Rapists

My custody case in Florida against my rapist started in 2010 and went on for a little over two years.  Though I had a restraining order and had pursued prosecution, he was not convicted of rape.  At the time he sued for custody, I did not know how many states had no or limited legal protection at that time from a rapist biological father when the child was conceived from his attack. Those states which had laws required a rape conviction.  For me, all that counted at the time was that Florida had no legal protection at all for this.  I recall the judge asking if there was any law to prohibit this -- even a federal law --and me replying:  "Not yet, but I am working on it."

I'm one of the original co-founders of Hope After Rape Conception (HARC.)  We came up with model legislation through HARC with the "clear and convincing evidence" standard which the U.S. Supreme Court has required for terminating parental rights.   No rape conviction should be necessary -- the same as other termination of parental rights cases such as child abuse or neglect, where a criminal conviction is not mandatory.  

Having this model legislation, I contacted a friend of mine I had known and whose opinion I have valued since years ago when I was a law student at Florida State University College of Law.  Since he had also served as a Florida legislative member in the past, I asked who he recommended contacting about sponsoring our model legislation.  It was my hope that Florida could go from being one of the worst states for this situation where there was no legal protection in place to being the best.  

I followed through on that recommendation, and contacted the member of the Florida House of Representatives who was running for a seat in the Florida Senate.  Since that was an election year and some legislators were termed out from their service, we had to wait until after the election for the proposed legislation to be moved forward, but the newly-elected Senator Joseph Abruzzo followed through on his promise since he had also made this issue part of his legislative platform.  I continued to contact and share my story with legislators on both sides of the aisle in order to gather support.

Legislative members in the House and Senate were willing to get bipartisan support for the sake of the people of Florida.  Sen. Abruzzo found a house sponsor, Representative Dave Kerner.  I continued to work closely with Senator Abruzzo's office on the drafting. One thing that was needed was a better understanding of why the clear and convincing evidence standard should apply.  So, I reached out to a trusted law professor who had taught me years ago -- Professor Charles Ehrhardt at FSU.  He was eager to help during the legislative process and, since he literally wrote the Florida Evidence Code, was invaluable in helping to explain to those involved why clear and convincing evidence was the correct legal standard.

It became my personal goal to get this law passed with unanimous bipartisan support because I wanted Florida to set the example of turning things around for my daughter's sake, and for everyone else who was in this situation of choosing life and raising a child conceived in rape here in Florida -- so that they could be set free from the rapist.  Sharing my personal story with the legislature definitely made a difference -- especially because in Florida it is the "best interest of the child" that is of primary importance.  Here is some of what I shared with these state leaders:

Years ago I was raped and then learned that I had become pregnant as a result of his attack.  I thought that I had fought him off successfully despite the pain throughout every fiber of my body.  I fought to make him stop.  He would not.  I was eventually rendered unconscious from his attack.  He even subsequently broke into my home and pointed a gun at my pregnant belly threatening to kill “it” now or later if I did not drop the prosecution against him.

More than half a decade later, during which time there was no contact with my child by the man who raped me -- which is how she was conceived, there he was in a Florida court asking for visitation and all other parental rights to which he should have never been entitled.  I was horrified and shocked.  How could this now be possible when it was not before?  And how could the laws of the state where he raped me and where she was born -- Louisiana, which had kept us protected from this terror no longer seemed to matter?  It was because we were now Florida residents.  The State of Florida did not have any laws that would protect my child from suddenly being forced into a relationship with her biological father who raped me, and the State forced me to relive through this court action the circumstances of her conception, which resulted from his attack.

The absence of any legal protection for us here in Florida allowed this traumatic nightmare to happen.  I felt the same horror of being raped by him again, only this time it was through a Florida court where I had it explained to me by those involved that he had "only" raped me and not the child, and he is equal to every other father in Florida under the law -- that he had equal rights to her just as any biological father in Florida would and is therefore not deprived of his rights here since we reside in this state.  Even his past and future threats of harm he made did not matter because the child had not yet been born when that occurred, so therefore the child did not experience this directly since I had been merely pregnant with her at the time that occurred.  This was the logical explanation I was repeatedly given as everything in my body and soul screamed, "Why is this legal and how is this possibly in her 'best interest' ever?!"

I contacted grass roots activists and key individuals who are in Tallahassee government relations.  I shared my story for the legislative members and committees.  I kept saying we need unanimous bipartisan support and that I want Florida to go from being a state with no protection to having the best.  I was driven for my firstborn and by my love for all my children.  The biggest legislative obstacle was a legislator who wanted a competing bill which would have had the legislation only apply to future cases and, therefore, it wouldn't protect my daughter. So I was certain to continue advocating and got others to help get his alternate bill thrown out.  I was relentless, I persevered, and in the end, I got what I asking for:  the law protecting me and my daughter -- and all other Florida rape victim mothers and their children -- passed in 2013 with unanimous bipartisan support and reflects our model legislation from HARC!

After the law was passed in Florida in 2013, it became the state that not only had the model legislation we were seeking nationally through Hope After Rape Conception, but Florida is also where the first federal legislation on this issue originated:  Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz proposed the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, echoing the Florida law, with the clear and convincing evidence standard.  And just like at the state level, she immediately reached across party lines and had a co-sponsor from the Republican side, U.S. Representative Marino.  I was invited to participate in a press conference at a rape crisis center to share my story and be a part of this journey forward from the terror I had survived before.  Video footage:  http://miami.cbslocal.com/2013/09/04/wasserman-schultz-urges-the-protection-of-rape-survivors-parental-rights/   Currently, the bill is not moving forward and must be reintroduced during the next session of Congress.

Every pro-life organization needs to be behind our model legislation, making it a legislative priority.  Even though we had bi-partisan support, the law is pro-life in effect.  If pregnant rape victims know that their State protects them from the rapist having parental rights, they will be less likely to choose abortion.  The FL House sponsor, Rep. Kerner, was quoted by the press as saying that this new law can hopefully encourage those in this same situation to choose life.  Furthermore, it's a prime opportunity for 100% pro-life legislators to show how much concern they have for pregnant rape victims -- by protecting them from the rapist.


BIO:  Analyn Megison is a graduate of Florida State University College of Law.  In her second year of law school, she was a visiting student at Georgetown University Law Center and interned with a federal judge in Washington, D.C..    She was appointed as the Special Assistant on Women's Policy for the Office of  the Governor of Louisiana, and she currently serves on a Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force in Florida.   She's a pro-life speaker, co-founder of Hope After Rape Conception and a blogger for Save The 1.

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