Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Lawmaker fights to close Md. loophole allowing rapists to seek custody of children conceived during attacks

by Joce Sterman   |   Monday, April 13th 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJLA) – A Montgomery County lawmaker is getting some help from an unexpected source to close a stunning legal loophole in Maryland. It allows rapists the right to seek custody if the crime results in a pregnancy. But after proposing a bill to change that in seven sessions, Delegate Kathleen Dumais is hoping some national attention will make a difference.

Dumais’ proposal is getting a push thanks to The Daily Show, which recently did an episode publicly shaming several states, including Maryland, for giving rapists custody rights. It’s an issue Dumais has been fighting to fix with the Maryland Coalition Against Sex Assault (MCASA).

Lisae Jordan, MCASA’s executive director, says, “It’s really frustrating that we’ve tried this bill over and over again and we’re running into roadblocks.”

Those obstacles have kept the bill, which has previously received large support, from moving forward.

Jordan says the premise is simple: “It’s a bill that would help survivors and help Maryland to say if you want to have a baby after you’ve been raped, we support you and the rapists won’t have rights.”

But many Marylanders we spoke with weren’t aware they already do.

Brian Rogers, a Pasadena resident, was stunned to hear about the issue, saying, “That sounds terrible. I had never heard this loophole before.”

Others are now hearing about the loophole because of The Daily Show. The Comedy Central program last week shined a light on the problem at the national level, pointing to legislation proposed in Congress. But it’s a state issue as well, one Dumais has been fighting to fix.

“We have bent over backwards crafting amendments for those who have concerns,” Dumais told ABC7.

Among those with concerns, we’re told, is Prince George’s County Delegate Joseph Vallario, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Despite garnering widespread support for her bill again this session, it never made it out of Vallario’s committee. The lawmaker wouldn’t answer questions from the 7 On your Side I-Team, walking away when we tried to ask about his issues with Dumais’ bill.

The proposed legislation would not require a conviction. Instead, it would only limit custody, Jordan says, if the survivor presented clear and convincing evidence and if a judge considered it in the best interest of the child. Dumais believes it has stalled, in part, due to antiquated fears that women will simply “cry rape” to keep someone out of their child’s life.

“It’s really the old prejudice that women lie,” Dumais said, “And it’s just frightening.”

The bill, which was supported by both the Catholic Church and national right to life groups, was not supported by Maryland’s Bar Association. Dumais and Jordan say they will again pursue the legislation in the next session.

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