After more than a decade, the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act will pass, allowing rape victims to terminate the parental rights of their assailants.
The bill has failed to pass nine times, since Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, first proposed it in 2007.
The measure passed both chambers of Maryland’s legislature last week, making the way for one last technical vote before the bill is sent to Governor Hogan to be signed. The bill made headlines when it failed to pass last year, and activists noted that an all-male panel failed to come to an agreement for the ninth time. Dumais attributed the delay partially to the lack of women in the House and Senate, according to Time Magazine.
Maryland is one of a handful of states that still allows rapists to have parental rights. Other states that do not have legislation allowing victims to terminate their attackers’ rights include New Mexico, Minnesota, Mississippi, Alabama, North Dakota and Wyoming. Mississippi is currently considering similar legislation that, if passed, would achieve the same goal as Maryland’s Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, according to CNN.
A bipartisan group of delegates has supported the bill for years, but there was debate surrounding amendments to the bill and concern over how to fairly revoke rapists’ parental rights while also allowing for due process.
According to the Baltimore Sun, some still have concerns with the bill. One of which was whether rape victims could still apply for child support after termination of the attackers’ parental rights. Another issue raised was how to properly terminate the rights if the rapist had not been criminally convicted, a hurdle that advocates said would prevent victims from getting justice, citing the Department of Justice statistics stating that fewer than 3.5% of rapes ever result in a conviction.
Those who have become pregnant through rape would be allowed to terminate the attackers’ parental rights after providing “clear and convincing proof” of the assault in court. This is a lower level of evidence than that of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is used in criminal convictions. This standard of proof concerned certain legislators, but over time, advocates were able to convince them that the higher standard of evidence would not provide a solution to the issues these women faced.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, previously named The Maryland Network Against Rape, was instrumental in advocating for the bill, arguing that it was a protection that would allow victims to not have to interact and parent with their assailants. They are a federally-recognized state sexual assault coalition composed of 17 rape crisis centers and groups who work directly with sexual assault survivors, offering assistance through legal services and advocacy. Their mission, according to their website, is to “help prevent sexual assault, advocate for accessible, compassionate care for survivors of sexual violence, and work to hold offenders accountable.”
Governor Hogan signed this bill when it came to his desk. During his State of the State Address, according to CNN he stated that“no rapist should be allowed to maintain parental rights and no victim should be forced to interact with her attacker,” adding, “I commend you for finally passing the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, and I will sign it into law the moment it reaches my desk.”