An Open Letter to Ashley Judd


Feminists for Life speaker and rape survivor Joyce McCauley-Benner wrote an open letter in response to comments made by actor Ashley Judd late last month. It was a top story on today and is reproduced below:

An Open Letter to Ashley Judd

Dear Ms. Judd:

We may not know each other, but we share a similar story. I am also a survivor of rape. Several weeks after my rape, I found out I was pregnant. I remember vividly the fear, the panic, the confusion. In my case, I was in a relationship at the time and did not know if the father was the rapist or my boyfriend. I was 20 years old and in college.

We both have grown up in a society that objectifies women, that blames the victim especially in cases of sexual assault, and where patriarchy is ever pervasive.

We have always been taught that we are our husband’s wife, our father’s daughter, so our identity, our very name, is tied to a man’s.

So it is no wonder, then, that in this kind of society, a rapist gets away with parental rights, and many call a child conceived in rape the “rapist’s baby.”

Yet, do the circumstances of our conception or parentage really define who we are?

As I have traveled around the country sharing the message of Feminists for Life I have met many women, including mothers who conceived in rape and their children, who have dealt with a society that judges them. Yet, they will tell you, their children are individuals, immensely loved, and wholly independent from the crimes of their fathers.

I personally know in a moment of crisis how hard it is to see into the future, to know and believe that everything will be OK. Our fear, the loss of power and control, is palatable.

I am not sure what allowed me to break through all that. I started to dig deeper. I thought to myself, I may not know who the father is, but I do know who the mother is! And she is me! There is as much of me inside this baby as there is the rapist or my boyfriend!

How could I allow yet another piece of me to be taken away?

I had my baby boy. And gave him my name.

Why would we, as women, still feed into the medieval notion that it is the biological father determines a person’s worth?

I would challenge us, as a society, to dig deeper. Oftentimes, our loved ones simply want to take away our pain and calm our fears. Many believe that abortion will be that “quick fix.” That “the problem” will go away.

But it doesn’t go away. Not like that. Abortion does not erase the rape. It doesn’t heal the rape. The pregnancy, the child, isn’t the problem we should be fighting.

You already know who and what we should be fighting and powerfully pointed it out. It’s time for us to focus on stopping rape and prevent rapists from having power.

I hope it is on that point that we can work together. I hope that you and I can start to build a bridge of common ground, where women are empowered, where the support and resources needed—especially in times of crisis—are readily available. Currently, only about 34 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation regarding terminating the parental rights of rapists. More work is to be done. Not just in our laws, but in our culture: our words, our thoughts, our conversations.

We are more than the status of our conception.

We are more than a victim of a heinous crime.

We do not matter less than the paternity of the child.

We are strong and creative enough to endure a crisis!

We can be victorious over violence committed against us.

A person’s worth is not determined by parentage.

These are the messages we need to spread.

Because women deserve better,
Joyce McCauley-Benner

Joyce McCauley-Benner graduated from college and graduate school while raising her two sons. She has served on a racial justice task force and worked with victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence. Today she supervises a utility assistance program for those living in poverty and speaks on behalf of Feminists for Life of America.