Eight years ago, a 20-year-old woman raped then 14-year-old Nick Olivas. Arizona law states that no child under 14 can consent to sex with an adult. Legally, this makes the sexual encounter rape, however, Olivas never considered reporting the crime. Instead, he finished high school, attended college, and became a medical assistant. Two years ago, the woman made a reappearance:
Then two years ago, the state served him with papers demanding child support. That’s how he found out he had a then-6-year-old daughter.
“It was a shock,” he said. “I was living my life and enjoying being young. To find out you have a 6-year-old? It’s unexplainable. It freaked me out.”
He said he panicked, ignored the legal documents and never got the required paternity test. The state eventually tracked him down.
Olivas, a 24-year-old Phoenix resident, said he now owes about $15,000 in back child support and medical bills going back to the child’s birth, plus 10 percent interest. The state seized money from his bank account and is now garnisheeing his wages at $380 a month.
This is not the first time a male victim of child rape has been forced to pay his rapist. The article recounts two other instances:
The most well-known case was of a Kansas boy who, at age 13, impregnated his 17-year-old baby-sitter. Under Kansas law, a child under the age of 15 is legally unable to consent to sex. The Kansas Supreme Court in 1993 ruled that he was liable for child support.
California issued a similar state court ruling a few years later in the case of a 15-year-old boy who had sex with a 34-year-old neighbor. In that case, the woman had been convicted of statutory rape.
In both cases, it was the state social-services agency that pursued the case after the mother sought public assistance.
One can reasonably argue that in all three instances the women requesting child support knew the victims were children. In the latter case, the woman was convicted of statutory rape yet California still forced her victim to pay child support.
The Arizona law does not exclude child rape victims. The state cannot order child support against a minor, but it can do it retroactively once the child becomes an adult. While the law does not appear to exempt anyone based on sex, it is doubtful the state would ever seek child support in the case of a custodial father seeking support from the non-custodial mother he raped.
Of course, the Department of Economic Security has an excuse for Olivas’s case: the rule is intended to ensure the child is cared for, regardless of the circumstances. That would also include the non-custodial parent never knowing about the child, as is the case for Olivas. DES also had this excuse:
The state requires parents seeking public assistance under the state’s welfare programs to first pursue child support. The child-support payments then are used to help reimburse the state for assistance payments.
The state’s child-support caseload includes 122,230 cases as of the end of May in which the families are or were receiving cash assistance. From April 2013 through March 2014, the state recouped just over $14 million in previously dispersed cash assistance through child-support payments.
“They have to comply with us,” said Scott Lekan, DES child support operations administrator. “We’re trying to keep them off the cash assistance, and we’re trying to get back some of the cash assistance money. It benefits everybody at the end of the day.”
Everyone except the rape victim. Keep in mind, the money does not go to the child. It goes to the custodian caring for the child, so in these cases the state forces male rape victims to pay their rapists money for a child they never knew existed. And there are many ways the state can do this:
It can garnishee wages up to 50 percent of disposable income. It can take a tax refund. It can put a lien on a home or a vehicle. It can suspend driver’s licenses or revoke passports. And it can seize money out of bank accounts.
“Our biggest source of income is from income-withholding orders to employers,” Lekan said.
Under Arizona’s child-support formula, non-custodial parents may keep their first $903 to cover their own living expenses. A child-support payment amount is then set based on the remaining money.
As if this were not enough, nothing in Arizona law guarantees the noncustodial parent any right to see the child, meaning that Olivas has to fight to have contact with his daughter, a move the mother will likely protest and win.
This case is a reminder of the unique stigmas and consequences that come with being a male rape victim. As Helen Smith noted in her article about the case:
Male victims of statutory rape are thought of as culpable for child support because, as males, they are not seen as victims, but always as perpetrators of sex, no matter how young. After all, they were asking for it and should have kept their pants zipped. Isn’t this what we used to say about female victims of sexual abuse?