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Survivors of sexual assault could go after rapists for child support payment under GOP proposal

Republican lawmakers are introducing legislation that would require the perpetrator to pay double the amount of child support

Buildings flank the Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capitol. Angela Major/WPR

Editor’s note: This story contains language and descriptions surrounding sexual assault.

People who become pregnant by sexual assault and give birth could go after rapists for child support — even if the rapist’s parental rights are terminated — under a GOP proposal.

Republican state Sen. Cory Tomcyzk and state Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, are introducing the legislation, which is circulating for co-sponsorship. They argue the person convicted of sexual assault “should bear both halves of the financial responsibility for raising the child.”

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“This bill is about holding people accountable for their actions. It’s a pro-life bill,” Tomcyzk said.

The legislation indicates the person bringing the support action must prove the child was born because of sexual assault by evidence of a conviction, after which the court would consider factors to determine an amount of child support, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. Any amount must be doubled.

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault is looking into the bill, which is early in the legislative process. The group learned of it Monday.

Ian Henderson, the policy and systems director for the group, told Wisconsin Public Radio that he wants lawmakers to consider some important questions.

“Does this bill keep the choice about seeking child support solely within the survivors’ purview? Are they the sole decision-maker about whether or not they do seek child support from the father, which would then be doubled?” Henderson said.

He said child support would serve as a link between the child and the father, something the survivor might not want. Survivors should be in the “driver’s seat,” he added.

“The more our responses to sexual violence can put the survivors’ needs at the center, the better,” Henderson said.

Henderson also raised concerns regarding how the bill will interplay with a statute that requires the state to commence an action for child support for people receiving public assistance who have not sought child support.

As the bill stands, the draft does not modify that statute.

“If the mother does not want the double child support payment, this is something that would have to be worked out in court — just like the rest of the process to determine child support payments,” a spokesperson for Tomcyzk’s office wrote in an email. “The bill does not specifically say that the mother could turn down the double payment.”

Current law requires parents whose children receive state benefits to cooperate with child support actions by the state. There are exceptions, including the birth of a child as a result of rape.

Henderson said that from his understanding, the legislation — which requires proof through a conviction — would have a very narrow applicability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 15 percent of women rape victims became pregnant after rape.

“It’s gonna only apply to a very small section of sexual violence survivors,” Henderson said. “It’s going to depend on the individual, their circumstances, whether or not they think this is a good idea.”

He added some survivors do not want anything to do with the person who sexually assaulted them, while others would want to take advantage of the opportunity to double the amount of child support.

Henderson said that understanding is especially relevant to cases of stranger assaults.

“In those situations, it’s not hard to imagine the survivor not wanting to have anything to do with the perpetrator, who is also the father of the child,” Henderson said. “Would this create a mechanism where the state is seeking child support from that person?”

Sen. Tomcyzk said he believes he will not have a problem garnering support for the bill.