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The details surrounding the birth of anyone who is not the product of, shall we say, a planned two-parent household pregnancy can be a touchy subject. But perhaps the most sensitive of all circumstances regarding one’s conception is being conceived by rape.

The recent comments from republican candidates Todd Akin and Tom Smith about what they consider “legitimate” rapes and what women who find themselves pregnant as a result of these acts should do with their offspring have spurred a slew of reactions and commentaries. Not the least of which is the question of what a woman who keeps a child conceived by rape should tell her child about her father and the circumstances surrounding his or her conception.

In an article on the topic, Slate quotes a statistic from the National Institutes of Health which puts the number of children born from rape at approximately 12,000 annually. What does the site suggest the mothers of these 12,000 children tell their children about their birth? The truth.

A child who has just begun to ask about his origins is probably too young to be told that his father was a rapist. The best response a mother can give at that time is to simply say that she didn’t know the father very well. (Unless she was the victim of acquaintance rape or incest, which can complicate matters further.) Mothers often use what psychologists call a “soft truth,” saying that the father wanted to be with her more than she wanted to be with the father. When the child gets slightly older, some mothers decide to explain in vague terms that the father committed some act of violence against her. These disclosures begin to prepare the child to hear the truth, once he’s old enough to understand it. Most mothers wait until the child is about 12 or 13 before fully disclosing the rape. Children at this point become curious about the full details of the incident, and mothers typically feel that the only option is to answer those questions honestly. People involved in these cases say the most important thing is to avoid painting the father as a monster: Even small children worry that they might share some of a rapist father’s traits.

To me, 12 or 13 still seems a bit young to disclose to a child that he or she is the product of rape, particularly with all of the hormonal changes and social/peer pressures placed upon adolescents at this time as they begin to really discover who they are. I tend to lean on the side of Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker who comments, “That seems like a disclosure that should wait until adulthood, doesn’t it?”

Imagine worrying that your dad’s “rapist genes” would be passed down onto you, or feeling guilty for the conditions of your existence having caused pain for your mother, and all this before you really even understand the meaning of rape, because you only recently learned that Santa Claus isn’t real. Perhaps worst of all: imagine wondering whether your mom even wanted you to exist in the first place.

But what’s a mother to do if a child is pressing for answers and won’t settle for the vague responses they’ve become accustomed to? I think worse than telling a child about the circumstances of their birth too soon would be telling them a lie about their conception. Eventually, you’re going to have to tell your child the truth and they likely will be resentful of being lied to for however many years prior. And to me, the thought of taking things like this to the grave is inconceivable. In my opinion, veryone has a right to know who their father is and how they came to exist, the question is how and when should they find out?

What’s your take on telling a child that he or she is a result of rape?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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