Rapists lose facet of power
By RUTH SHEEHAN, Staff Writer
Rep. Sam Ellis was listening to the "Dr. Laura" show when he first heard the awful tale:
A young female caller was telling Dr. Laura that she'd been raped by a man and had gotten pregnant as a result.
She had decided not to abort but to put the baby up for adoption.
That's when the rapist took control of her life again.
To complete the adoption, she needed the birth father to terminate his parental rights.
The rapist, in custody awaiting trial, told her that he'd sign the papers -- if she agreed not to testify against him in the rape. As a result, the rapist would certainly be released.
What do I do? the young woman asked. Protect society or protect the adoption?
Dr. Laura advised that the young woman do what was right for the child. She wished her luck and moved on to the next call.
But Ellis, a Republican who represents Raleigh and Cary, was appalled; he couldn't let it go, in part because he thought the woman's Southern accent sounded familiar.
He called the show to see whether the woman could be tracked down. Dr. Laura was no help. But Ellis decided that, "even if the woman wasn't from North Carolina, the circumstances that created her situation were."
Ellis contacted the legislative staff and had a bill drawn up to prevent rapists from using parental rights as a way to intimidate witnesses.
Finally, during the final days of the recent session, the bill was wrapped up in another and expanded, so that the parental rights of convicted first- and second-degree rapists are automatically terminated. Convicted rapists must now petition the court to regain their parental rights.
"Basically, it reverses things," Ellis said. "Previously, it was the woman who had to spend the money and try to get the paperwork signed. Now the onus is off the victim."
Ellis told me about this issue when he first introduced the bill, nearly four years ago. At the time I thought it was intriguing. But it also seemed like a rather rare set of events. How often could it happen? I thought.
After introducing the bill, however, Ellis was contacted by two women, one in Fayetteville and one from Charlotte who was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time. Both had gotten pregnant as a result of a rape -- and had been intimidated by their rapists over parental rights. Both women offered to speak in favor of the bill before a legislative committee. During that session, however, the bill was not taken up.
I talked to one of the women myself. Her name is Lori, and she said she was the victim of an acquaintance rape by a former high school classmate.
When she decided to carry the child to full term, the man she accused threatened not to terminate his parental rights unless Lori agreed not to file charges.
The story of the other woman, from Cumberland County, was identical to the one told on Dr. Laura's show.
They always say that rape is not about sex; it's about power. I'm just glad, in North Carolina, this is one power the rapists no longer have.
Ruth Sheehan can be reached at 829-4828 or email@example.com