Kidnap and rape victim Amanda Berry is a recent high-profile example of a woman’s love for a child conceived in rape. Her fellow kidnap and rape victim, Michelle Knight, is reportedly another example. Michelle’s brother Freddie tells the New York Daily News that Michelle wants to be reunited with the son she had before she was abducted by Castro. He was born after Michelle was gang-raped by boys at school prior to her abduction.
“She was a delightful girl, outgoing,” Deborah Knight, 62, told the Daily News. “She was very helpful. We just had a lot of fun together.”
But all that changed when three classmates “grabbed her by the arm and raped her at the school,” the great-aunt said. “That’s how she had Joey.” [...]
[...] “She was, like, ‘Give me a hug,’” her brother said. “She was so freaking happy. I gave her a hug, but I couldn’t give her a bear hug because of all the things that happened to her.”
Freddie Knight said his sister has said little about her years in Castro’s prison. “She was just happy to see me,” her brother said.
After enduring so much torment, cruelty and isolation, Knight is now eager to make up for the decade she lost, and wants her son, who is 13, back.
How could any woman possibly want to carry to term, give birth to, and parent a child conceived in rape? We hear this question all the time on political soapboxes. It is a mantra that hurts women, because it rejects the idea that women will naturally love their children regardless of the circumstances of their conception.
In the real world, we see many examples of mothers desiring a loving, protective relationship with their children conceived in rape that is consistent with all that we treasure about motherhood. Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight are two shining examples of this. Society’s rejection of such children can cause many children, and their mothers, to fall through the cracks. This is what happened to Michelle.
Michelle Knight was brutalized long before she was kidnapped by Ariel Castro. First, she was brutalized by being gang-raped by boys at school. Then she was brutalized when authorities stripped away from her the child she had conceived as a result of that rape. There are indications that this action by authorities was taken at the urging of family members who would not support Michelle in caring for the child. Michelle is now reluctant to reunite with some in her family, reportedly because of a custody dispute she had with her family prior to her abduction.
It was after she was gang-raped and her child was taken from her that Michelle was abducted and brutalized by Castro. This included his murdering five children she conceived as a result of his raping her repeatedly. Michelle’s life, then, has been mostly made up of people robbing her of her most precious treasures: the treasure of herself and the treasure of her children. The boys from school who gang-raped her robbed her of herself. The community, including possibly her own family, robbed her of a relationship with her child. Since it is now clear that Michelle’s brutalization began long before Castro entered her life, we would all do well to understand the community’s role in that part of Michelle’s tragedy, just as we are trying to understand how we can do more as a community to recognize that our own neighbors can be people like Ariel Castro.
Few among us would not recognize that healing for Michelle will come partly through being reunited with the child who was taken from her against her will. Reaching out and supporting Michelle now is an opportunity, then, for societal healing. Community support for her now will help to make up for the community support that was lacking for her when her child was taken from her.
Our learning to understand, as a society, that it is natural for Michelle to desire a relationship with her child conceived in rape is an important part of healing for Michelle and others like her. Women like Michelle fall through the cracks that we fashion with our pickaxes in the law when we say that abortion should be an option for raped women “because it’s natural for a woman not to desire that child.” We have failed as a society to understand that it is natural for Michelle to desire that relationship. Attitudes like this bring about the lack of support that resulted in Michelle’s child being taken from her. It is time for us to heal the cracks that women like Michelle, and their children, fall through – cracks that are made by those who advocate for abortion in cases of rape.
Michelle Knight, as Amanda Berry, teaches us a great lesson about children conceived in rape. Such children are a balm on the wounds of their mothers, not a blight. We need to support women who conceive children as a result of rape by responding with love for both them and their children. We need to let them, and all women, know that the love that they have for these children is natural and, as such, can be healing for them in the process of healing from rape.
The reality of motherhood, that motherhood itself is a treasure in and of itself, is something that we all need to stand ready to embrace in our families and in our communities, especially when the tragedy of rape occurs. When we preach violence as a response to violence, women like Michelle become brutalized – first by the rape, and then by the rejection of her natural desire to have a relationship with her child. Just as the community participated in the brutalization of Michelle Knight by taking her child from her, the community participates daily in the brutalization of other women like her because their children conceived in rape are treated under the law as non-persons who have no inherent right to exist.
If it is true that Michelle Knight wants to be reunited with her son, then we all need to come together in supporting her in that, as a community, for her sake and for the sake of her child. Just as Amanda’s story teaches us that children conceived in rape can be a source of hope that inspires mothers to persevere, Michelle’s story teaches us that community support for women who conceive children as a result of rape should always be an important part of our efforts to bring healing to women who are victims of the violence of rape. It is only in understanding the dignity and value of all women and their children that society can experience healing from violence against women. If our society’s answer to these women is that they are disordered in some way if they love these children and desire a relationship with them, we fail them as we failed Michelle.