Monday, October 9, 2017


"How" the BBC would like to know, "Can [a] rapist win joint custody of victim's child?"

Said victim has a theory. “They (officials) never explained anything to me. I was receiving about $260 a month in food stamps for me and my son and health insurance for him. I guess they were trying to see how to get some of the money back.”

Or, to borrow a headline from an unrelated story I saw a couple of years ago "We are too broke to care about right and wrong."

When Sanilac County, Michigan, surveyed the mother, who had been receiving child support, they found that the child had a father: one Christopher Mirasolo. According to the mother's attorney, Mr. Mirasolo had abducted, held and raped the woman, her older sister and a friend in 2008, when the victim was 12 years old. That attack resulted in a pregnancy; DNA paternity testing shows that Mr. Mirasolo is the father of the now eight-year old child. On the basis of this, and after allegedy being told by an assistant prosecutor that the woman had consented to a continued relationship with the convicted rapist, despite her having moved to Florida, a circuit judge awarded joint custody to the man who was convicted of "attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct" in the case and gave him her address in the bargain. And, according to her attorney, she's been ordered to return to Michigan to live or face contempt of court charges. And did I mention that Mr. Mirasolo was convicted again of sexually assaulting a minor a couple of years later?

This is, as the youngsters put it these days, "all sorts of fucked up."

But if we answer the BBC's question with the mother's theory, it all makes a certain amount of perverse sense. After all, he wasn't actually convicted of rape in the case - only "attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct." (Although it seems to me that a pregnancy is pretty much dead certain proof that the "attempt" was successful...) And it will (supposedly) save the state money - after all they can always go after Mr. Mirasolo for the money. (Which I suspect will be a rousing success.) If that means forcing a woman into a relationship with the very stereotype of a sexual predator and forcing her to move halfway across the country to be close enough to him to share custody of the child, well, she's a sacrifice the county is willing to make.

And this is how civil societies end: With the understanding that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, and so a different few decide that this few or that one can be thrown under the bus because its in the best interests of everyone else. Now, I know that I'm relying a lot on the victim's attorney here, and that she's likely to be a highly biased narrators of what went on, but bear with me one more time. The attorney, in explaining how Mr. Mirasolo was sentenced to county jail rather than prison, notes: “She (client) and her family was told first-time sex offenders weren’t sent to prison because people come out worse after they go there.” But you can also imagine in a situation like this that judges of cash-strapped jurisdictions might avoid sending first-time offenders to prison to avoid damaging their employment prospects, and thus their ability to pay child support, later in life.

(Although given that this case is making international headlines, it's hard to imagine Mr. Mirasolo staying gainfully employed long enough to come up with bus fare, let alone child support payments. And in that sense, Mr. Mirasolo might end up serving yet more time behind bars; this time for failure to pay court-ordered support payments.)

The issue isn't that the result of this case is, on its face, terrible. One could (perhaps with a bit of effort and a lot of alcohol) imagine that a reconciliation between victim and rapist had taken place, and she had consented to allow the father shared custody, and he had pledged to support the child financially. Stranger things have happened, and people believe much less plausible scenarios on a daily basis. But the victim's attorney's (admittedly biased) understanding of the case points to this being driven by something other than an act of forgiveness, as the victim herself suspects. And perhaps that's because the alternative, simply denying benefits, is unpalatable. Whether that's because it means letting Mr. Mirasolo off the hook for something that non-criminal fathers have to contend with, or it simply leaves a blameless child out in the cold is a matter of speculation, but this case points to a potential gap in Michigan law, one that doesn't allow the state to hold fathers accountable for the welfare of their children without allowing even the most reprehensible of them to involve themselves in their children's lives. And while there are many reasonable rationales for such a law, this is perhaps the problem with attempting to legislate everything. If “trying to see how to get some of the money back,” means trampling on a woman who, by age 24, will have a child who is half her age something really needs to change. And sure, the assistant prosecutor and the judge are not the people who put the rules that they operate under into place. But it is an abdication of perception to ignore an outcome in which no-one comes out looking good, because it's easier to do that than to say: "Hey, does this look broken to you?"

I know a decent number of people who describe themselves as anarchists, and these are the sorts of situations that become ammunition for them, because it's difficult to look at a legal system that produces this sort of outcome and say that it just kind of has to be that way. This sort of thing happens because not looking the other way has costs. Costs that it's perhaps too easy to convince oneself aren't really all that bad (mainly because they always seem to happen to other people). But avoiding looking at, and understanding the costs doesn't make them go away.

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