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WV Legal Loophole – How to Sever A Rapist’s Parental Rights

West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services logo
West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services logo
September 24, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As in every state, parental rights in West Virginia are a complex and emotional legal issue. West Virginia law does not specifically deal with pregnancies arising from sexual assault, nor does state code specifically say how to sever the parental rights of rapists who impregnate their victims. Some are calling on lawmakers to address these issues.

Nancy Hoffman, state director of the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services (FRIS), says if it is difficult to sever a rapist's parental rights, that can be added trauma for the victim.

"If you were a sexual assault victim and found out that you were pregnant, imagine having to get the father's permission in order to put that child up for adoption."

Hoffman says the law should provide a clear and simple way to end a rapist's parental rights, because the last thing most victims want is to deal with their attacker. She says many victims don't even say they're pregnant until the legal issues come up.

"The first time the rapist is notified that he has a child may be when issues come up about the legal rights of custody and visitation."

Some states require a conviction in order to sever parental rights, but Hoffman says only a small percentage of rape cases go to court. Even then, they can take so long, the child could start growing up in a legal limbo, she says.

"The time period for an investigation, a hearing and a trial could be years."

Another problem, Hoffman says, is that the attacker can use parental rights to blackmail the victim.

"The offender can say, 'If you don't report the crime to law enforcement, than I will agree to sign the adoption papers' or 'I will agree verbally to stay out of your life.'"

Missouri Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin said few rapes result in conception. However, Hoffman says, studies have found that about 5 percent of rapes cause pregnancy.

More information is available at www.fris.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV