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When the father is a rapist

To quote former Del. Luiz Simmons, with whom I served on the House Judiciary Committee for 12 years and who was likely paraphrasing Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "you are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts." The description of the bill in Mr. Simmons' recent commentary ("What they're not telling you about Md.'s rape paternity bill," April 27) is fiction. The bill is carefully drafted, balanced and well vetted. 

Maryland is one of only seven states with no court process in place to terminate parental rights if conception is without consent and the result of rape. The bill would authorize the court, after a full evidentiary trial, to terminate the parental rights of an individual found to have committed rape against the other person that resulted in the conception of a child. Contrary to the author's assertions, the bill in no way limits an individual's right to discovery, identification of witnesses or the taking of statements. All of this is governed by the Maryland Rules of Procedure applicable to all court proceedings. 

The bill only applies to nonconsensual sexual conduct defined as first degree rape, second degree rape (excluding statutory rape) and incest. First and second degree rape require force or threat of force without the consent of the other. First degree rape requires use of a weapon, suffocation, strangulation, disfigurement or serious physical injury or threat of any of the above to the victim or another person. These are serious, violent acts. The bill does not apply to consensual sexual conduct as implied in the op-ed.

Here are the facts: Over 300,000 rapes are reported each year in the United States, but only 12 percent of the reports result in arrest and only 2.2 percent of rapes of victims over age 18 result in a conviction and incarceration. Approximately 5 percent of rape victims ages 12 to 45 become pregnant as a result of rape, with most pregnancies occurring in adolescents. A little over a third of these women choose to carry the child to term and have the baby.

It is correct that the bill does not require a conviction to file an action. Rather, like 21 other states, the bill requires that the sexual assault be proven by "clear and convincing" evidence, a higher standard than the normal civil standard of a simple "preponderance of the evidence" but not as high as the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required for a criminal conviction. Requiring a conviction treats rape differently than other crimes, such as child abuse and domestic violence, which can be the basis of termination of parental rights and do not require a conviction. Rape victims should have to meet the same standard used in other termination of parental rights cases — no more, no less.

Note that the U.S. Congress agreed with this approach and enacted the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act in 2015 that entitles states to additional funding for rape crisis centers and services for victims of sexual assault if the state law allows termination of parental rights using the clear and convincing standard and does not require a conviction. 

The bill has incredibly broad, bipartisan support. Community groups, women's groups, the Maryland State Bar Association (contrary to the author's assertion), religious organizations, victim service providers, prosecutors and voters all support the bill ("Children conceived without consent," April 22). Planned Parenthood and the Maryland Catholic Conference both support the legislation. Maryland can do better for victims of sexual assault.

Kathleen Dumais, Annapolis

The writer, a Democrat, represents District 15, Montgomery County, in the Maryland House of Delegates and serves as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

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