Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Rape survivor legislation is first House bill filed, sponsors hopeful for its passage amid sexual assault revolution

By Chase Cook, Contact Reporter
Montgomery County Delegate Kathleen Dumais thinks the 2017 sexual assault movement could buoy the chances of her rape survivor bill, which has struggled to pass in the Maryland General Assembly for years.She has been trying to get it passed for about a decade.

“Certainly the #MeToo movement is helpful,” Dumais said. “For the women truly affected by this, this is the kind of thing they need.”

Dumais’ legislation is titled “Family Law — Child Conceived Without Consent — Termination of Parental Rights (Rape Survivor Family Protection Act).” In short, it would allow Maryland courts to terminate the parental rights of an individual “convicted of or found by clear and convincing evidence to have committed an act of nonconsensual sexual conduct against the other parent resulting in the conception of a child,” according to the bill.

The way current law works is the rapist has parental rights. So if a woman who was raped and wants to give up the child for adoption, it would require the alleged rapist’s consent. Or if the women decides to keep the child, the alleged rapist and mother would have to negotiate over custody.

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault have long been supporters of the bill.

Throughout that decade people have become more educated about rape and sexual violence, but the 2017 #MeToo movement has seen an explosion of public accusations against powerful men.

It’s possible that movement buttresses the bill’s chances, but it isn’t over until the session is over, said Lisae Jordan, Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director.

“The failure of this bill for so long reflects a deep suspicion of women,” Jordan said. “It is the same sort of deep suspicion that leads victims of sexual assault and violence to have been silent for decades.”

“Hopefully we are coming to an end of that era.”

The bill traveled furthest in 2017’s General Assembly, where different versions of it were passed unanimously by both the House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate. But its passage came late in the session and it didn’t make it through conference committee. These committees are required when the House of Delegates and Senate pass different versions of the same bill.

Both the House and Senate conference committees consisted of all-male panels.

Dumais said Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, has “made it clear” the bill will have an early hearing. It’s listed as the House’s first bill, with the Senate counterpart listed as Senate Bill 2. Busch as well as Republican Minority House Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, have both sponsored the House version of the bill.

Senate President Mike Miller has co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

Busch could not be reached for comment on the legislation.

Kipke said he was hopeful the bill would finally pass the assembly this year after two successive years of passing the House unanimously.

People are learning more and more about what a rape survivor has to go through when they decide to keep a child or put it up for adoption, Kipke said.

“It is the right thing to do,” Kipke said. “It is totally inexcusable for the General Assembly not to protect the victim of rape.”

“We should be doing absolutely everything under the sun to support that mother.”

Opposition to the bill has come in the form of concerns that people would abuse the law to deny parental rights.

Dumais said she has fielded concerns that women would use the law to deny fathers — who have not raped someone — their parental rights.

Those concerns have been answered in the bill, which has gotten better over time, Dumais said. This version of the bill protects due process and requires clear and convincing evidence. It also calls for representation if both sides can’t afford it.

“It is a better bill,” Dumais said. “Is is perfect, no.”

“This is a really strong bill that provides due process protection and provides both parties with counsel. I’m hopeful this is the year that it (passes).”

 

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