Survivors of rape will soon be legally able to revoke the parental rights of their attackers in Maryland, thanks to a bill Gov. Larry Hogan said he would sign into law.
The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act — which grants rape victims the ability to terminate parental rights of their assailant if a child is conceived from the act — was first introduced more than 10 years ago by Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery). It's failed to pass through committee in both the House and Senate of the Maryland General Assembly nine times, The Baltimore Sun reported.
If passed, the bill would allow revocation of parental rights not only if the parent was convicted of rape, but also if they are "found by clear and convincing evidence" to have committed the act, according to the bill.
"Everyone agrees that when something happens as terrible as a rape, and if someone is born from it, that clarity of responsibility is good for the child," said State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George's).
Maryland is one of six states that does not have legislation of this kind in place, The Baltimore Sun reported. If passed, it would join 21 other states that do not require a conviction for parental rights to be revoked, according to a 2016 CNN report.
State Sen. George Edwards (R-Allegany, Garrett and parts of Washington), one of the 34 state senators to sponsor the bill, echoed Rosapepe's approach to passing the legislation.
"It's in the best interest of the child," Edwards said. "The person that did the rape doesn't deserve to be in contact with the child. I think most people would agree."
Last year, the bill made it out of committee and both chambers passed different versions of the legislation for the first time. Negotiations to eliminate the discrepancies in the two versions were left to a panel of six male legislators, who failed to reach a compromise by the end of the 2017 legislative session, Dumais said.
The differences that scuttled last year's bill were fixed this time around, Dumais said, which included ensuring due process was protected for survivors and attackers who are accused of but not convicted of rape. The previous bill included an amendment allowing survivors to collect child support from their attacker, but it was was left out of the final version of the bill, Dumais said.
"The bills are identical this year, unlike last year," Dumais said. "We hammered out our differences."
Nick Perkins, a sophomore electrical engineering major at the University of Maryland, said this year's bill made sense morally and logically, but questioned whether it was right to revoke a person's parental rights without being convicted of a crime.
"If they are only accused, they shouldn't lose custody," Perkins said. "Innocent until proven guilty."
Catherine Carroll, director of this university's Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, said in a statement provided by university communications Thursday that it would be "premature" to speak on the bill's impact because it has not yet been signed into law.
"However, giving women legal options is an important step towards preventing the re-victimization of women who become pregnant as a result of rape," the statement read. "I believe this would significantly help survivors."
One in eight adult women in Maryland have been the victim of rape at some point in their lifetime, according to a 2003 National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center study.
Twelve rapes were reported to University Police on this university's campus between January 2015 and November 2017, according to Uniform Crime Report data. There were 157 rapes reported in Prince George's County's first district — where College Park is located — between 2013 and 2015, according to Prince George's County Police crime reports.
Roughly one in 20 rapes among victims of reproductive age (12-45) result in pregnancy, according to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. While that percentage is relatively low, Dumais said the important thing is "that there is a process in place" for victims to revoke parental rights if needed.
Despite the long wait, Dumais said, "In my 16 years [as a state legislator], I've seen a great deal of progress."
"We see it across the country. People are more aware. It's a matter of education and changing attitudes, [and] things are moving quickly," she said. "The legislative process tends to make things better."