A friend of mine once told me that she was the product of her mother’s rape. Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she wondered aloud, “Which are the rapist’s parts?”
Although rape is profoundly traumatic, relatively little has been said about the lives of children born from it.
As psychologist Andrew Solomon writes in his book, Far From the Tree, children conceived of rape are more likely to suffer from severe psychological disorders, the most common of which are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
They face many challenges both before and after birth. Research shows that maternal stress severely affects embryological development. Many women who are raped opt to take antidepressants to help them cope, which can harm the fetus.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 32,000 pregnancies in the United States occur each year as a result of rape, approximately 12,000 of which are carried to term and raised by their birth mothers.
After birth, the children’s lives don’t get any easier. Researchers Elisa van Ee and Rolf J. Kleber identified the post-partum period as a significant mental health risk for children born of rape.
These children often develop poor parent-child relationships, as violent rape can affect maternal capacity to care for the child and to form a loving bond. Researchers report that such circumstances may lead to abusive parenting or neglect. The children themselves may also feel responsible for their fathers’ actions, living in guilt and embarrassment. As Angélique, a child born as a result of rape, states in a Montreal Gazette report:
“I’ve always felt rejected by my mother and the rest of the family. And now she feels responsible for the problems I’m having, and I feel guilty about that.”
Children born of rape also face great social stigma. They are described as carriers of the deviant genes, and are often ostracized by families and communities. In instances occurring during wartime, many societies have adopted hateful labels such as “Russian brat” in Germany, “Devil’s children” in Rwanda, “Children of shame” in East Timor, “Monster babies” in Nicaragua, and “Dust of life” in Vietnam.
Yet many mothers are starting to speak out against the negative perceptions and stigma associated with children of rape. One of these mothers, Shauna Prewitt, claims that women are almost never consulted in media shaming of rape conception.
Even more noticeable is the growing voice of the children of rape themselves. The world’s attention was recently drawn to Valerie Gatto, a child of rape who competed for the title of Miss USA in June, 2014. She now works to educate young women about protecting themselves from sexual assault.
Without change to media and public perceptions, women will continue to face scrutiny over choosing to keep their children, and the children themselves will continue to be blamed and victimized.
– Sara Bencekovic, Contributing Writer