Pennsylvania Bill Requires Low-Income Women to Prove They Were Raped in Order to Qualify for Welfare

Illustration for article titled Pennsylvania Bill Requires Low-Income Women to Prove They Were Raped in Order to Qualify for Welfare

The more naive readers out there might think there's only one kind of rape: forced sexual penetration. Ha! There's actually a bevy of rape flavors, including "rape" rape, "grey" rape, "legitimate" rape, "forcible" rape, and — last and most recent but certainly not least — rape by divine intervention.


Now, a new bill in the Pennsylvania House is proposing a new spinoff that we'll call "absolutely, positively — seriously, girl, you're not lying, right?" rape, or "proven rape" for short. It's not a brand spanking new flavor — it has the same rotten taste as the other types of terms that try and invalidate sexual assault — but it involves complicated wordplay and is specifically marketed towards low-income women. Nice!

The bill seeks to reduce the amount of welfare benefits that low-income women receive based on how many kids they have while covered under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program. For some crazy reason (perhaps limited access to affordable contraception?), low-income women have more children, and lawmakers — four Republicans and one Democrat in this case — want to stop giving them money. But what if a woman is impregnated against her will? Ehh, alright, fine: if a woman can prove she was raped and that she reported her rape and her abuser's identity to the police, they'll throw her some cash.

From the bill:

In determining the amount of assistance payments to a recipient family of benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, the department shall revise the schedule of benefits to be paid to the recipient family by eliminating the increment in benefits under the program for which that family would otherwise be eligible as a result of the birth of a child conceived during the period in which the family is eligible for benefits under the TANF Program. [...]

Elimination of benefits under subsection (d) shall not apply to any child conceived as a result of rape or incest if the department: (1) receives a non-notarized, signed statement from the pregnant woman stating that she was a victim of rape or incest, as the case may be, and that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency having the requisite jurisdiction or, in the case of incest where a pregnant minor is the victim, to the county child protective service agency and stating the name of the law enforcement agency or child protective service agency to which the report was made and the date such report was made.

54 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to RAINN. But instead of considering the myriad of reasons that make it difficult — and, in many cases, dangerous — for women to report sexual assault, the lawmakers are more concerned with making sure they know that "false reports to law enforcement authorities are punishable by law," and that the state will report any "evidence of false statements or fraud." Got it.

In short, the bill implies that survivors of rape are guilty until proven innocent — more likely to "cry rape" to get some extra money than to actually be raped, even though false rape allegations are extremely rare but hundreds of thousands of women are sexually assaulted per year. That's not the way our legal system — or welfare system — is supposed to work.


[Think Progress]



After reading the bill, I'm having a hard time (as a staunchly liberal, pro-choice woman) figuring out what is wrong with this. They're asking that you follow the law by reporting your rape to the proper authorities in order to receive Government assistance if you're claiming it's on the basis of rape. And the issue with this is...? It's not saying that the accuser has to be able to prove anyone guilty, or that it has to go to trial, it's just saying they have to report it and it has to be on file as reported. Poor reporting on this one. Perhaps next time you could have one of your friends that reads legalese translate this for you before you blast out in public.