With studies conducted over the last two decades representing an estimated total of between 17,000 and 32,000 rape-related pregnancies in the United States each year, both federal and state legislatures have taken it into their hands to provide sexual assault victims with protection over their parental rights.
Maryland has failed to pass legislation that would bestow sole custodial rights to the mother of a child conceived through sexual assault. The proposal, having failed eight times prior, was intended to eliminate a requirement that rape victims who get pregnant share parental rights with their attackers.
Maryland remains one of the only seven states in the country that has failed to offer such a law. Other states lacking such a law are North Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama and Minnesota. The other 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed legislation dealing with the issue; however in 20 of these states a conviction of crime is required meaning that women still face the possibility of having to battle over custody should the case not be prosecuted.
According to The New York Times, on April 10 the decision ultimately came down on the shoulders of six legislators, all of whom were men.
Kathleen Dumais, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates and sponsor of the House bill stated the ordeal was “bad optics.”
“I think it’s insensitive. But I’m not sure that’s the reason that it failed,” she reported to The New York Times.
Dumais explained the bill was motivated by a few “horrible” custody fights and would have affected no more than 10 cases per year.
When asked to discuss the possible thought process for voting against the law, Associate Professor and Director of Research and Evaluation at the Benjamin Center Eve Waltermaurer explains that the scenario is unique and deserves due consideration.
“The relationship that exists between a victim and their attacker is unlike anything else; it’s peculiarly delicate,” she said. “When you factor in the possibility of a child’s well being, there is a lot to think about. I think the thought process is that they are trying to give the child the best opportunity to live a happy and fulfilled life and to have that option of maintaining a relationship with their father should they want to.”
Waltermaurer teaches a Violence Against Women course offered at SUNY New Paltz.
While nearly half the states have legislation meant to prevent rapists from claiming parental rights, a victim is still vulnerable to having to face her attacker if there wasn’t a conviction in her case – and that’s if she reported it and if it was prosecuted, CNN reported.
Title IX Deputy Coordinator Emma Morcone explains that while every survivor experiences their coping and trauma differently, there are certain trends that arise in the aftermath.
“It is not an easy thing to talk about because you have to live through the trauma and having to remain in contact with your attacker in any form can be really challenging for people,” Morcone said.
Specifically on this campus, Morcone refers to no-contact orders which are applicable to any two students enrolled at SUNY New Paltz.
“The two students involved are not allowed to talk to each other in any means- social media, text messaging, in person and they are not allowed to have third parties reach out for them,” she said.
Alternatively, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation stating rape survivors in the state will no longer have to provide evidence of “physical resistance” to prove a sexual crime was committed. The law has changed the definition of the word “rape” and will ensure that saying “no” and not fighting back will hold up in court.