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Judge may terminate parental rights of rapist father

February 26, 1997
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Can a man in charge of a rape ask for parental rights if a child is born as a result of that forcible rape?

It seems incredible, but the answer -- under Missouri law -- is yes. In fact, a St. Charles attorney says it actually has happened.

Cynthia Casey Louis, a member of the Missouri Corrections Association, cites the case of a man charged with numerous counts of statutory rape and sodomy of his 12 year-old stepchild. He refused to voluntarily give up his parental rights to the child's daughter that genetic a DNA test had found he had fathered.

Louis also cites the case of a 31-year-old father serving a seven-year sentence for sexual abuse of a 16-year-old. While in prison, the man has continued to make statements that he will seek custody of the 16-year-old's daughter when he released from prison.

These are the overlooked consequences of Missouri's child-custody that Rep. Cindy Ostmann, D-St. Peters, is trying change.

The bill she has introduced that would take away parental rights of a rapist over the child produced from the rape.

"I don't want that woman to ever have to see that man again, ever," Ostmann said.

The proposal also covers statutory rape and incest.

In the case of statutory rape, however, the mother would have authority to decide whether to terminate the parental rights of the father.

Ostmann said she took that approach in case the woman decides to marry the father.

In the case of incest, either the woman or the juvenile officer would initiate parental rights termination. "We are doing this to protect the girl," Ostmann said. "Because too often the family don't want her to testify or to bring charges."

Ostmann said she got the idea for her bill from watching a TV program last summer that focused on the experience of a woman who was raped and found herself pregnant as a result of the rape. She was married. She and her husband chose to continue the pregnancy and keep the baby.

But after the rapist's release from prison, he went to court and was granted with visitation.

"Perhaps the saddest part of all is that the 8 year-old son found out...that he was actually the son of a rapist," Ostmann said.

At first, Ostmann said she did not believe the story, until a couple of judges in her county told her the possibility was true.

"There's no way in the world this should be a problem bill," Ostmann said. "I don't care about the circumstances, a rapist is a rapist and the victim should not be victimized any further."

No opposition to the bill has emerged and witnesses have testified against the proposal when it was heard by committee.

But Rep. Tom Bauer, D-St. Louis, said that there could be some constitutional problems with a bill that will permit automatic termination of parental rights in the case of statutory rape, and even in the case of forcible rape.

"I'm not opposed to the general purpose of the bill, that is to deny those rights," Bauer said. " The question is how do we get there in such a way that the bill satisfies due process and is not going to be subject of later challenge."

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