By Matt Stout
February 4, 2017
A rapist who fathers a child during the sexual assualt would have his parental rights to the child stripped under legislation being pushed on Beacon Hill, the first to surface in the wake of a stunning appellate court ruling that opened the door for predators to seek vistitation privledges. The issue burst into the public view when, as first reported by the Herald in December, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals denied a woman's request to throw out a paternity ruling, giving her rapist the ability to drag her into the probate court and argue that he should be able to see the child conceived in the assault.
"When I talk to people about this, they all have this blank look on their face. They can't believe this is possible. They cant believe, in ourt state, this is happening," said state Sen. Sal DiDomenico, who filed one of the several bills that seeks to strike the ability for rapists to petition the court for visitation rights.
"I though it was outrageous," DiDomenico said. "This is a major priority for me this session. This is not just theory. This is something that's happening right now."
At the time of the ruling, the woman's lawyer said it was the first time an appeals court had "answered the question of whether a convicted rapist has any parental rights to go to a family court." DiDomenico's bill strips that right for anyone convicted of rape or is "found my clear and convincing evidence" to have fathered the child during a sexual assult.
Separate bills recently filed by state Sen. Pat Jehlen, state Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives and state Rep. Michelle DuBois include similar language, and the proposal, supporters say, is intended in party to protect the survivor of the sexual assult from having to continually face her attacker in court.
"it shouldnt be necessary," Jehlen said of the proposed law. "I could not believe this was true."
That option is made possible under a domestic violence law legislators passed in 2014, which included language giving rapists the ability to seek visitation rights if a judge feels it is in "the best interest of teh child. DiDomenico, who was in the Senate at the time the bill passed, said "things change."
"over time, certainly there's cases, like this, that pop up," he said, "and they change people's opinions."
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg is encouraging lawmakers to consider the bills. "He thinks this is something that needs to be addressed," spokesman Pete Wilson said.
A spokesman for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who filed the orginial domestic violence bill in 2014, did not address the proposals, except to say they will be "reviewed by committee as they go thruogh the legislative process."