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Plan to Block Rapists' Visitation with Children of Rape

PHOTO: Charleston Lawyer and senate candidate Josh Martin says he would push legislation to block convicted rapists from suing for parental rights in family court.  Courtesy of the campaign.
PHOTO: Charleston Lawyer and senate candidate Josh Martin says he would push legislation to block convicted rapists from suing for parental rights in family court. Courtesy of the campaign.
October 5, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A candidate for the state Legislature says he wants to press for a law that would prevent rapists from claiming visitation and other parental rights to a child fathered through sexual assault.

Senate candidate Josh Martin, a Charleston lawyer, says he would push legislation to block convicted rapists from suing for parental rights in family court. He says that would help protect victims from what he calls a horrific situation.

"You are the victim of one of the worst crimes on the books, and then you have to go testify to a court why this perpetrator shouldn't be allowed to have access to the child."

Martin cites cases where rapists have tried to claim parental rights in other states. He says he doesn't know of any such cases in West Virginia, but that may be because family court records are often sealed. Martin says he hasn't heard from anyone who opposes the aim of his legislation. He says most folks say it's common sense.

"Most people were just curious as to why West Virginia didn't have such a law, and my response was 'I don't know.' "

Some states allow for the severing of parental rights without a conviction. Backers argue a criminal case can take years and leave the child's status in limbo until it's done. Martin says he's sympathetic, but adds that such a law might go too far.

"We also have to be mindful that everyone is presumed innocent, and until they are proven guilty, I think that you would have some constitutional issues there."

A study in the Georgetown Law Journal found most states have a loophole to the one in West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., a U.S. Senate candidate, has said few rapes result in conception, but several studies have found about 5 percent of rapes cause pregnancy.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV