By Suzannah Weiss. Photos: Getty Images.
Women's rights suffered a serious blow in Maryland this week thanks to a committee full of men who passed a bill that would free rape survivors from having to negotiate child custody with their rapists failed to pass—for the second year in a row.
Women who get pregnant after being raped are often re-traumatized when they must negotiate child custody with their rapists. The Survivor Family Protection Act, introduced by state delegate Kathleen Dumais, would have denied the men this privilege after they've been convicted of rape or once the mother has presented evidence in family court that they did not consent to sex.
After one version of the bill passed in the House and another did in the Senate, a committee of state delegates and senators was charged with merging the two into one final product. No women were even invited to participate. Delegate Joseph Vallario Jr., who appointed the panel, told The Baltimore Sun he couldn't include Dumais because she was biased as the bill's sponsor. Dumais responded that she'd sat on panels for bills she'd sponsored before.
The group discussed the measure past 11 p.m. in the General Assembly, and it seemed they'd reached a deal. But by the time they'd created the paperwork, the session was almost over, and the print shop couldn't get everything done in time. The same thing happened last year: The bill failed at the very end of the session.
Maryland is one of only seven states that make sexual assault survivors negotiate child custody with their rapists. These women could be forced to keep their attackers in their lives, and some rapists use their power over the children to control their victims. Several perpetrators have even threatened to seek custody if their victim presses charges.
“For those who choose to carry to term, a woman who becomes pregnant through rape runs the risk that the rapist will assert his parental rights,” NARAL’s Maryland branch said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “If she chooses to raise the child herself, it could mean her rapist inserting himself into her life for the next 18 years. The perpetrator may also hinder efforts to place the child up for adoption. In some extreme cases, rapists have only agreed to allow an adoption to go forward if the victim promised not to testify against him at Trial.”
Judicial Proceedings Committee chairman Senator Bobby Zirkin, one of the panel's creators and members, plans to bring back the bill yet again—but not until the next General Assembly session, which begins in January 2018.
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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