Written by Jessica Eaton
Content warning for discussion of children being conceived in rape, abuse and trafficking. There are no descriptions of sexual offences, but the article discusses the issues frankly.
It was a warm spring day in 2015 when I got the phone call from the Passport Office. I was at work and nipped outside to take the call. I listened and tried to take in what they were saying to me.
“Is there no way you can trace the biological father of your child?”
“Yes, ” I said, “But I am not going to. He’s a repeated, convicted offender of battery and sexual and domestic violence. He doesn’t know where we are anymore and I have been free of him for 6 years.”
“And you say you were raped? And you reported it to the police?”
“So, could you get a letter from him, maybe? To approve the passport?”
“Could you find out where he is living and ask your family to go and get a letter from him?”
“Do you know his parents or family members, would they convince him to write a letter for you?”
“Do you not get how dangerous this is? I ran away from my home town with my baby. I just want a normal life. I just want to go on holiday with my kids. You cannot possibly expect women who have been raped to find the rapist years later and ask for permission to go on holiday.”
I lowered my voice, aware that the windows of the office were open and people were likely to hear me having this argument. The conversation continued and I spent another 15 minutes crying, arguing and freaking out at the prospect of having to track down a rapist to ask his permission to go on holiday with a child he has had nothing to do with.
Fast forward to 2018 and I was on the phone again, this time to a colleague who also has a son from rape. We talked for hours on the phone and realised we were wrestling with all sorts of questions:
- Do we ever tell them the truth? How? When? Why?
- What will happen if we hide the truth but then they find out some other way?
- How do you protect a child from a person they don’t know anything about?
- What is in their best interests whilst protecting yourself as a victim of rape?
- Why is there no support out there for us?
- How do you get around the issues with birth certificates, PR and custody?
- How many other women have children from rape and how are they coping?
- Are any of us doing this right? Is there a right way at all?
Last year, I was privately commissioned to conduct anonymous research which explored the prevalence and experiences of women who became pregnant or had children from rape – and the prevalence and experiences of men and women who were born from rape. The study has remained private but will be being published with free open access under victimfocus soon.
What does the (limited) research teach us?
Well, a comprehensive literature review turned up very little. Most of the research in this area concentrates on rape during warfare. This led to me designing and conducting my own study – which would be one of the first of it’s kind. The findings of my first study present one of the first sets of results in the UK about the prevalence, experiences, stereotypes and myths about women who have children from rape.
One of the things that struck me was of the 315 people who took part, only 44% of participants said they had never known a woman or girl who had become pregnant or had a child from rape. Of the 56% who said they did, 111 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who became pregnant from rape or abuse, 72 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a termination after rape or abuse and 67 people said they knew at least one woman or girl who had a baby conceived in rape or abuse and brought them up herself.
However, despite this being so high, when participants were asked whether they had ever known someone in their lives who had been told they were conceived in rape or abuse, 88% of participants said they didn’t know anyone who this had happened to.
In addition, from the sample of 315 people, 7% of the females said they themselves had a child from rape and a further 8% of the females said they had become pregnant from rape but had a termination.
The rest of this particular study asked the 315 people ‘What do you think the public perception or opinion is on women who become pregnant from rape or abuse?’
The answers to this question were very important and guided my thinking as to what we do next. The majority of the participants wrote answers about women having abortions, hating their babies, damaging their children and resenting the baby. Less common answers also included people who wrote that women were probably lying about being pregnant from rape, that women didn’t have any support, that people would think negatively of the woman and the myth that it is impossible to become pregnant from a rape.
This demonstrated to me, that there was much work to be done. It is also worth noting however, that 87 participants mentioned that they thought women would be blamed for becoming pregnant from rape and 56 participants stated that they ‘had their sympathy’.
‘My friend was still in school when she was raped and became pregnant. She was bullied horrendously by our peers and even some adults, unfortunately when it came out how she fell pregnant it seemed like she still deserved the snide remarks and comments. Like it was her own fault. Still a lot of stigma around shame and victim blaming that somehow the woman failed or was weak to allow it, that victims are forever ‘damaged goods’, inferior women.’
I then asked participants the same question again, but about the perception or public opinion of children born from rape or abuse. Again, the 315 participants were given space to write their thoughts before I analysed their responses using thematic analysis.
The answers to this question included very strong themes about the child having severe mental health issues, that the child would be pitied, and most worryingly, 90 participants wrote that the child would become a rapist themselves and ‘follow in the father’s footsteps’. Less common answers included discussions of children being taboo, shamed, judged, isolated, unloved, abused, unwanted and disgusting to the mother.
‘It’s a tragedy – unfortunate – Lacking a father figure, potentially dangerous genes; mothered by a mother who might be traumatised/who might not be able to adequately protect herself or child. That they are born into a ‘broken’ family. The mother is not a good mother etc. Feel sorry for them, may expect them to inherit ‘bad’ genes from their father.’
Clearly, we have a very, very negative view of these mothers and their children. There were only a handful of participants who believed that children could be loved and supported by their mother, that they could grow up to be happy and healthy, and that the mother would do a good job.
The topic of women pregnant from rape, and children conceived in rape is uncharted territory. We are suddenly discussing something that is seen as even more taboo than rape, than FGM, than ritual abuse, than paedophilia, than snuff films. Plenty of research exists on all of those topics, and whilst they are undoubtedly taboo, there are years of reports, articles, research and support groups to be found. The same cannot be said for women who have had babies from rape.
The findings from the first study were a big mix of rape myths, misogyny, victim blaming, myths about children, myths about sex offending being inherited in genes and a number of other misunderstandings and stereotypes of women and children. The research in forensic psychology shows us that when people do not have personal experience or knowledge of a topic, they rely upon societal scripts and schemas to form an opinion or perspective. Their scripts and schemas often come from media, peers, culture, religion or societal norms.
Without any decent knowledge, facts or science, we have an entire population relying on fictional scripts and stereotypes. Would women or the children get the right support? Probably not.
So what can we do about this?
Well, as you will know, we are making a film with women who have had babies from rape and abuse.
I am also designing and preparing a range of resources, guides and even a new website which will host all of the information, research, advice and support in one place. This will launch in 2019. The website is already built, but I am still populating the pages with content and useful stuff.
The second thing I did was invested in further research. Launched in October 2018, I began a study with women who had become pregnant, had terminations or had a baby from rape, abuse or trafficking which has now had 110 submissions in the first two weeks. The study focuses less on prevalence data and more on the experiences and opinions of women, what they felt they needed, what it has been like to be pregnant or have a baby from rape and what we can do to support them better.
Another thing I have been doing is telephone discussions and interviews with women who have children from rape. These women have children aged in their thirties right through to young babies. I’ve spoken to women who were raped in a relationship, women who were being trafficked as children, women who were raped in care, women who had babies from sexual abuse by a family member and even women who became pregnant when men deliberately put holes in condoms or refused to let them take their contraceptive pill.
A message for women with children from rape
Right now, we don’t have many of the answers, but together we are building a body of stories, evidence, research, suggestions and advice so that this silence does not continue. Before I finish this blog, I have a message for the women who are reading this, having had pregnancies or babies from rape:
I have now spoken to or heard from over 600 women who have had babies or become pregnant from rape and abuse. What I can tell you with certainty is that we are all winging it. We are all different, unique individuals with varying circumstances. Some of us tell our kids. Some of us don’t. Some of us look at the child and see the rapist, some of us don’t. Some of us struggle with what happened every single day, some of us don’t. Some of us are facing custody battles with rapists who want access to children, some of us don’t even know where the rapist is. Some of us know our children have siblings because the rapist went on to rape others, or to have families of their own. Some of us have lied to our kids, some of us haven’t. Some of us are confident in what we are doing and some of us are shitting ourselves. Some of us reported to the police and some of us didn’t. Some of our families supported us and some of them ostracised us. Some of us remarried and have families, some of us didn’t. Some of us gave our kids up for adoption, some of us didn’t. Some of us decided to have a termination, some of us didn’t – and some of us didn’t even know we were pregnant until we were giving birth. Some of us are psychologists, police officers, social workers, writers, teachers, retail managers, artists, engineers, receptionists, athletes, TV presenters.
We are not one homogeneous group. Nor are our kids. We are a very diverse group from every corner of society. We are many. You are not alone. Nor are your children.
But despite us all being so different, we are all presented with the same problem: there is very little information or support out there for any of us.
I am committed to changing that over the next two years. Beginning June 2019, there will be research, reports, advice, support, professional training and education. We can change this silence, together.
VictimFocus – Challenge, Change, Influence
Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk | Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton