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"Room" for Improvement

Last weekend, I finally got around to watching the movie "Room", which won Brie Larson an academy award for Best Actress last month. So, was the movie worth all the hype? I would say it 1,000% deserved all the praise it got; I thought it was a beautiful film.

In case you're out of the loop, "Room" is a movie about a woman who was kidnapped seven years before. Her captor keeps her imprisoned in a shed that he's fashioned into a sort of one room studio apartment with running water and electricity. There is only one window: a small skylight. Over the course of seven years, he visits her a few nights a week to sexually assault her and bring her food and other sundry. Two years into her imprisonment she becomes pregnant and has a son. The movie does not focus on the brutality of what she's endured, as awful as that would be, but the relationship between her and her son, whom she's trying to raise and protect in an impossibly difficult situation. It's about love, protection, and strength.

Sound familiar? You might recall a few years ago the Ariel Castro case in Ohio, where a man was discovered to have kidnapped and imprisoned three women for many years in his home. One of Castro's victims had a daughter while in captivity as result of the repeated sexual assaults she suffered. In 2013, after their escape and during the course criminal proceedings against Castro, he filed to have visitation with the daughter he fathered. The court, of course, said no.

An interesting result of Castro's attempt at "fatherhood" is that a spotlight was put on paternal rights of rapists. In 2013, thirty one states (including Georgia) allowed rapists the rights of a father: legitimation, visitation and custody, visitation.

The Castro case spurred federal lawmakers to create and introduce the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which provides financial incentives to states who pass legislation precluding paternal rights to rapists and help grant women sole custody of children conceived by rape. The Act was signed into law by President Obama.

Also, incentives are in place through the Violence Against Women Act for states enacting initiatives which won't require a criminal conviction of the rapist to preclude paternal rights. Instead, the incentive encourages legislation that would allow a judge to block a rapist's access to a child in a civil proceeding using the "clear and convincing evidence" standard. This standard is less burdensome than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of criminal law.

So, where is Georgia in all of this? In December 2015, we finally got HB713, which would amend the Georgia code sections on legitimation, adoption, and termination of parental rights to essentially preclude a rapist from legitimating and having legal access to a child. It also provides women an avenue to legally terminate the rapist's parental rights.

HB713 did not become law in this legislative session. It is currently working its way through the Georgia legislature, hopeful for full consideration in 2017. Contact your local representative to voice your support today! Passing this bill would be a huge victory for victims of rape and for the children whose fathers are monsters indeed.

Prohibiting rapists from further abusing their victims by precluding any possibility of parental rights would indeed be a salve to help provide room for the mothers to focus on their babies without fear of their attacker's continuing control. And that is room that we good citizens of Georgia should give them. That law provides the much needed room for improvement. 

Megan McClinton

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