Todd Akin Sought to Narrow the Definition of Child Abuse

Many seem to think that Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks placed him on the fringe of the Republican Party. In reality, he’s spent most of his career there.

It’s now widely known that Akin teamed up with Paul Ryan in 2011 to try to narrow the definition of rape – i.e. “forcible rape.” This is no anomaly. Early in his career as a state legislator, Akin even tried to narrow the definition of child abuse.

Back in May of 1991, the Missouri House debated a bill to “outlaw rape and sexual abuse in marriage.” “Rape is rape,” said Rep. Jo Ann Karll shortly before the bill was overwhelmingly passed. “Missouri is finally moving into the 20th century,” said Colleen Coble, executive director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

But not everyone was celebrating. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on 5/1/91 that Akin voted for the bill but “questioned whether a marital rape law might be misused ‘in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.’”

Just about any law can be abused, and lawmakers must always be cognizant of this. But Akin seems to be preoccupied with the potential for abuse of the law whenever it relates to the government preventing abuse in the household.

Akin and his supporters believe that the husband is head of the household, and they’re loathe to regulate what he can and cannot do to his wife and children. In fact, prominent Akin supporter Phyllis Schlafly denies the very possibility of marital rape: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape.”

And so in March of 1992, Akin fought for a narrower definition of child abuse. The Missouri House was considering a bill to create a “statewide child abuse review board” and tighten the standard for proving child abuse from “reason to suspect” to “credible evidence.”

The bill’s sponsor said the definition change was necessary to ensure that “all cases of child abuse can be covered.” Akin, however, was suspicious. He argued that the bill “needed a more restrictive definition of abuse” because of the potential for abuse of the child abuse law. The Post-Dispatch reported on 3/5/92:

Akin said he was concerned that ‘the department could come into your home and if your kid had just fallen off his bike and skinned his knee…take your kid away.’ Akin also said that with a loose definition of abuse, neighbors might use child-abuse reports ‘as a tool to harass, a way to get even with’ someone they dislike.

This is how Akin’s mind works. You need to worry about vengeful soon-to-be ex-wives claiming rape to get back at their husbands. You need to make sure that non-forcibly raped women aren’t getting government-funded medical care. And you can’t let neighbors harass one another by falsely claiming child abuse to the overbearing nanny state enforcers who will take kids away for having a scraped knee.

Akin’s efforts earned him a rebuke from the Post-Dispatch editorial board, which singled him as an alarmist who supports an “excessively restrictive child-mistreatment law” and resorts to “extreme and unlikely examples to bolster his case.” It seems like they had him pegged way back then.

Here is the full 3/10/92 editorial, entitled “Abuse Law Fair to the Accused, Children”:

The Missouri House is moving ahead in setting up a state board that would arbitrate disputes between people accused of child abuse and the Division of Family Services. The House gave initial approval to this proposal on Wednesday. It shouldn't allow critics to prevent it from passing the bill, sponsored by Rep. Kaye Steinmetz of Florissant.
 
Missouri's child-abuse law is basically a good one, but it needed to be revised. The bill would restrict the standard the state would use in proving child abuse. The old standard called for ‘reason to suspect.’ The new standard would require ‘credible evidence.’
 
Clearly, the change is aimed at protecting people from being recklessly and falsely accused of abusing children. Some critics say the definition should be even more restrictive, but they should give this proposal the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, more restrictions will be added to the law if critics, like Republican Rep. Todd Akin of St. Charles, get their way. Mr. Akin resorts to extreme and unlikely examples to bolster his case.
 
The bill, he argues, would permit child-abuse investigators to ‘come into your home and if your kid had just fallen off his bike and skinned his knee…take your kid away.’ In fact, the more restrictive the law, the more it ties the hands of child-abuse investigators and the more likely serious cases of child mistreatment might go undetected.
 
Mr. Akin does raise a real concern, however, when he says a disgruntled person might try to use the child-abuse law to harass a neighbor. But the way to address that issue is through better trained child-abuse investigators. The bill would mandate improved training, which should make the workers more proficient in investigating cases while protecting people from being falsely accused.
 
The statewide child abuse review board would be appointed by the governor and would require Senate confirmation. The Legislature should see the benefits in passing the bill in its existing form rather than weakening it to appease alarmists who favor an excessively restrictive child-mistreatment law.

 

 

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