Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

In cases of rape, rapists shouldn’t be handed parental rights

By: Julian Sadur
Posted: Mar 04, 2016 08:21 PM EST
Updated: Nov 01, 2016 05:19 AM EDT

MARYLAND – If a child is conceived out of rape, should the rapist have parental rights. It’s an awful scenario, but one that the members of the Maryland House’s judiciary committee must debate. As the law stands now, the rapist has the same rights as any other parent. However House Bill 656, which had it’s first reading in the judiciary committee Thursday, seeks to change that.

With parental rights, the rapist would be able to challenge the mother for custody of the child, and have a say in whether the child can be adopted. Del. Kathleen Dumais (D – Montgomery County), the sponsor of the bill and vice chair of the judiciary committee, says the victim should be able to take the matter to court.

“If the child was conceived as the result of a sexual act that was perpetrated without consent, then I think that the mother should have the ability to request that the court terminate the parental rights,” Dumais said Friday to 47 ABC.

The process would require the victim to take action in civil court.

“There’s still due process,” said Abigail Marsh, legal director of legal services at the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury, Md. and supporter of the bill. “It’s not as though this is an automatic thing. She still has to go the court, file a complaint with the court, after an evidentiary hearing the court would find whether or not there was clear and convincing evidence that a sexual assault did occur and whether parental rights could be terminated.”

Even after that though, the rapist would then be able to challenge the ruling.

“Not only is there a process for the rapist, but he could he can still fight it in court, both the parental rights, and also he can potentially have visitation over that child that was conceived from a crime,” Marsh said.

As the law stands now, adoption requires the consent of both parents to move forward with the process.  Dumais said the reason this bill would change that process, in these instances, is because that consent can often be used by the rapist as a bargaining chip to persuade the victim not to press charges, or as a way to get back at the victim for pressing charges.

“That’s exactly the kind of power and control that the criminal could still exercise over that woman,” Marsh said.

Dumais said the bill has failed to reach a committee vote the past six years because of a difference in opinion between her and committee chair Joseph Vallario (D – Prince George’s).

“(Vallario) and I have a disagreement. The chairman does not believe that we should terminate the parental rights if a child was conceived without consent, or by rape unless there’s a conviction,” Dumais said.

47 ABC contacted Vallario’s office multiple times Friday, but were unable to get in touch with Vallario for a comment.

Dumais said though that consent, shouldn’t be the determining factor.

“The reason it’s important that we not require a conviction is that the overwhelming  majority of rapes are not prosecuted, and if they are prosecuted, there’s an overwhelming amount percentage that don’t result in conviction,” Dumais said.

Despite the bill’s past failings, Dumais believes this year will be different. Dumais said the bill has 78 co-sponsors and the interest of the speaker of the house, Michael Busch (D – Anne Arundel). Dumais said she hopes a vote in the judiciary committee will come within the next two weeks.

“I think we’ll get a vote this year,” Dumais said. “And I think if we get a vote it will pass.”

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