Open Letter to Rep. Matt Gaetz
By Analyn Megison, ROAR As One, Director of Legislation
Dear Rep. Gaetz,
I am one of thousands in America who have come forward every year to report rape. Because of stigma in our society and genuine safety concerns of retaliation, including those vulnerable children who are sexually abused every day, many of us suffer in silence.
Vicious attacks on the credibility of those who accuse you of sexual abuse is something all of us rape survivors and really anyone who speaks up about any sexual assault are familiar with, of course. Those who perpetrate sexual abuse tend to value and encourage stigma in our society against those like me who come forward. Current rhetoric on “non-credibility” has a huge silencing effect on survivors. Stigma is very helpful to those who commit sexual abuse of minor children, too.
But when those in positions of power resort to a defense in the arena of public discourse that is solely focused on attacking and stigmatizing those who speak up about being victimized sexually, it certainly gives the one in power the appearance of a cornered rat.
I do not know if I am someone you would regard as credible for speaking up about surviving rape, or if you would regard me as not having any credibility at all. Years ago, I was raped in Louisiana and then learned that I had become pregnant as a result of his attack. I thought that I had fought him off successfully, despite the pain throughout every fiber of my body. I fought to make him stop. He would not. I was eventually rendered unconscious by him. He even subsequently broke into my home and pointed a gun at my pregnant belly threatening to kill “it” now or later if I did not drop the prosecution against him.
More than half a decade later, during which time there was no contact for my child by the man who raped me, which is how she was conceived, there he was in a Florida court asking for visitation and all other parental rights to which he was never entitled. I was horrified and shocked. How could this now be possible when it was not before? And how could the laws of the state where he had raped me and where she was born, which had kept us protected from this terror, no longer seem to matter? Because we were now Florida residents. The state of Florida did not have any laws that would protect my child from suddenly being forced into a relationship with her biological father who raped me. Florida allowed him to force me to relive, through this court action, the circumstances about her conception that resulted from his attack and rape.
The absence of any legal protection for us in Florida allowed this traumatic nightmare to happen. I felt the same horror of being raped by him again, only this time it was through a Florida court where I had it explained to me by those involved in the legal proceedings that he had only raped me and not the child and is as good as every other father in Florida under the law. He has equal rights to her, just as any other biological father in Florida would, and is therefore not deprived of his rights here since we reside in this state. Even his past and future threats of harm did not matter because the child had not yet been born when that occurred, so therefore the child did not experience this directly since I had been merely pregnant with her at the time. This was the logical explanation I was repeatedly given as everything in my body and soul screamed “Why is this legal and how is this in her “best interests” ever?”
You see, this stigma of being raped and then coming forward more publicly, as I had to do, and as many survivors for whom I advocate have to get through, is not an easy thing. My case happened after returning to Florida where I had graduated law school from Florida State University College of Law years ago. Stigma of sexual assault is an even greater burden for a child to bear. I found justice to be a fleeting thing subjugated to politics and vicious stigma against anyone who spoke up privately and especially publicly about the truth of abuse. I had to go through an ordeal of fighting my rapist in a Florida court where I was told repeatedly that a rapist father was as good as any other father in the eyes of the law. That is not true there. It is not true anywhere.
During my experience I am sharing with you, I drafted a bill proposal with model language in Florida years ago to end parental rights of rapists. My Model Law in Florida passed unanimously with bipartisan support in 2013 and became the basis for the Federal Rape Survivor Child Custody Act. It then became law nationally in 2015. Further, the Federal Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act Omnibus Laws included the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act in Article 311 for funding that aids law enforcement and critical services for all rape victims. In 2020, a movie based on these true events of my life was produced and aired on Lifetime called “You Can’t Take My Daughter.” I continue to advocate and help survivors to break these chains as a busy single mother to my amazing children.
Unfortunately, sex traffickers of minors do like to “breed” their victims. Minors becoming pregnant because of being sex trafficked is a part of their very credible reality. Needless to say, traffickers and rapists really do not like me very much.
When elected leaders stigmatize one of us for coming forward against all odds to speak up about our experiences of rape and abuse, they are stigmatizing and shaming all of us. Yes, I am a patriotic American woman. I am a survivor of rape and abuse. I am strong as a mother. I am a natural warrior. And I am credible.
The views and opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author and not necessarily the views of ROAR As One or Shari Karney. Further, they are not an endorsement by Roar as One.