An important decision faces lawmakers in January, when members of the Maine House and Senate will return to Augusta for the short legislative session.
A bill I sponsored would make it easier for victims of rape to strip their attackers’ of parental rights to children born as a result of rape. Simply put, it empowers women who became pregnant after being raped to raise their children free from interference from the men who violated them — a crucial step in helping victims move from the traumatic experience of rape.
In Maine, a man convicted of rape in a criminal court can already be stripped of parental rights to children conceived during their crime. However, we know that this standard is far too high to protect victims of sexual assault.
We know that a shockingly low percent of rapes are even reported, and even fewer rapists are ever convicted. Rape cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, so even when charges are brought, attorneys often negotiated agreements to allow rapists to “plea down” and accept a lesser charge.
Those realities mean it’s just too hard for victims to obtain the peace of mind they need to move on with their lives and raise their children. But forcing rape victims to keep their attackers in their lives is not only absurd; It’s also out of step with the way most parental rights decisions are made in court.
In many cases, the standard of proof in family court proceedings is “clear and convincing evidence,” rather than the higher standard of proof known as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is used in criminal cases. Rape victims should not be held to a higher standard of proof than other parents seeking to protect themselves and their children.
This unfair barrier is not only deaf to the realities of sexual assault, but can also lead to a victim being forced to relive their trauma again and again from regular interactions with their rapists.
That’s why the federal government believes the current barriers facing rape victims are too high. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president this year, and provides incentives to urge states to pass laws such as the one proposed in my bill, “An Act to Protect Victims of Sexual Assault.”
My bill would simplify needlessly complex child custody proceedings, prohibit rapists from seeking custody of a child conceived in rape and protect rape survivors from further harassment and intimidation by their rapists. It will allow victims to petition the court to terminate their attackers’ parental rights with clear and convincing evidence.
This commonsense fix will not only help the specific victims that benefit from it, but will indirectly help other victims in our state. Passage of my bill will make the state eligible for additional federal funding to support sexual assault victims.
The proposal already enjoys broad support. Nine out of the 10 members of the bipartisan Legislative Council have given my bill the green light necessary for consideration by the full House and Senate. My bill was one of just 33 proposals accepted during the first round of bill consideration by the council.
I’m confident my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will come together to support this commonsense step to protecting victims of sexual assault.
As always, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (207) 287-1515.