In Wyoming, it is legal for the rapist to sue for custody of the child. You read that correctly. People convicted of sexual assault can secure child custody in this state. There are absolutely no laws against it. I shouldn’t have to point out how utterly disgusting or how morally irresponsible this is.
Wyoming, shockingly, is not the only state with this loophole. Seven states including Wyoming make up this modern-day dystopia, the others being North Dakota, Alabama, Maryland, New Mexico, Minnesota and Mississippi. All the other states in this nation have some sort of laws protecting rape victims from the horror of a custody battle.
In case you’re not picking up on how truly terrible this lack of justice is, let me paint a scenario. You’re a woman in America, one of 17,000 to 32,000 who are pregnant with a child violently forced upon you. For religious reasons or personal beliefs or perhaps just because of emotions you can’t explain, you have decided to keep the child. You’re shocked when you learn that your assailant has sued for custody, and even more horrified to learn that your state does absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening.
To most rape victims, trial is one of the most traumatizing things they will ever have to go through besides the attack itself. To give testimony of the event only 15 feet away from the person who forced themselves is triggering and sickening to most victims. It is a battle in and of itself. Allowing the assailant to continue to torment their victim for years to come with even just the threat of child custody is an unthinkable horror.
Often, these negative experiences rape victims go through after the fact are known as “second rape,” such as being denied protection by their communities. The effects of this often leaves the victims feeling revictimized.
It’s not as if convicted rapist custody cases never occur either. In 2011, Jamie Melendez pleaded guilty to rape charges. The rape had occurred two years prior and the victim, a 14-year-old, had become pregnant and decided to keep the child. Part of Melendez’s sentencing included paying child support. Melendez sued, saying that if he had to pay child support, he should also receive visitation rights. In 2017, joint legal custody of an 8 year-old child was granted to a convicted sex offender in Michigan. He had allegedly raped the child’s mother nine years prior.
If this is an oversight, why haven’t we fixed it yet? If even five cases like this happen per year, it’s five too many. There is absolutely no reason we should continue to allow this to happen. It’s time to fix the outdated lack of laws protecting rape victims from a “second rape” in Wyoming.