Skip to main content

Raped, pregnant and ordeal not over

By Shauna Prewitt, Special to CNN
August 23, 2012 -- Updated 1846 GMT (0246 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shauna Prewitt had a baby conceived in a rape and faced another unexpected ordeal
  • Prewitt found the majority of states give parental rights to men who father through rape
  • She became a lawyer to fight this practice and encourage states to make this illegal
  • She says many women who are raped become pregnant and give birth

Editor's note: Shauna R. Prewitt is a lawyer in Chicago. She is the author of "Giving Birth to a 'Rapist's Child': A Discussion and Analysis of the Limited Legal Protections Afforded to Women Who Become Mothers Through Rape," written for the Georgetown Law Journal.

Chicago, Illinois (CNN) -- When I was in law school, my criminal law professor introduced us to the crime of rape by reading us a quote from Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century English jurist: "In a rape case it is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial."

It was not merely a history lesson. I had lived it.

While a student in my final year of college, at age 21, I was raped. I have dissected that moment -- the horrifying moment that I became a "victim" -- from every possible angle. I have poked and prodded, examined and re-examined. Regrettably, I have even suspected myself in a desperate, ultimately futile attempt to understand how I became a victim.

Shauna Prewitt
Shauna Prewitt

But blaming myself was neither my idea nor my first inclination. I thought such 17th-century notions were long dead. I was wrong. People who did not even know me were quick to comment or speculate on my rape. What were you wearing? Did you scream loudly? Did this occur in public?

'Legitimate rape' reaction, from the Congo to black crickets

As my history lesson said, I found myself on trial, facing the most fierce judge and jury: ignorance.

Defiant Akin still in Senate race
Rep. Akin's controversial claims

Eight years after my rape, I find myself on trial against ignorance again. Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy not only flout scientific fact but, for me, cut deeper. Akin has de-legitimized my rape.

You see, nine months after my rape, I gave birth to a beautiful little girl. You could say she was conceived in rape; she was. But she is also so much more than her beginnings. I blissfully believed that after I finally had decided to give birth to and to raise my daughter, life would be all roses and endless days at the playground. I was wrong again.

It would not be long before I would learn firsthand that in the vast majority of states -- 31 -- men who father through rape are able to assert the same custody and visitation rights to their children that other fathers enjoy. When no law prohibits a rapist from exercising these rights, a woman may feel forced to bargain away her legal rights to a criminal trial in exchange for the rapist dropping the bid to have access to her child.

Opinion: Wake up, it's not just Akin

When faced with the choice between a lifetime tethered to her rapist or meaningful legal redress, the answer may be easy, but it is not painless. For the sake of her child, the woman will sacrifice her need to see her once immensely powerful perpetrator humbled by the court.

I know it because I lived it. I went to law school to learn how to stop it.

Having fought this injustice for the past several years, I have come to believe that ignorance is to blame for this legal absence. Opponents argue no woman would ever choose to raise the child she conceived through rape. The only two studies to analyze the choices made by pregnant raped women indicate otherwise -- at least 30% of women who conceive by rape make this choice.

Others argue that no rapist would ever seek parental rights. Not only does my experience and that of others I know prove otherwise, but it is not surprising that a man who cruelly degrades a woman would also seek to torture her in an even more agonizing way, by seeking access to her child.

Today, it seems we may face a new and unbelievable challenge: convincing legislators that women can conceive when they are raped.

iReport: 'Rape is rape'

Make no mistake, my efforts and the efforts of others to persuade legislators to pass laws restricting the parental rights of men who father through rape will be directly impacted by Akin's recent comments. Whether these efforts will be helped or hurt, however, depends upon us as a society.

Either we will fight ignorance and take steps to legislate for raped women based upon reason and facts, or we will be led by ignorance and continue to make bad laws. Or fail to make good ones.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Shauna Prewitt.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT