January 24, 2016
BOSTON- Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) today announced that he has filed legislation that would deny parental rights to the perpetrators of rape. According to Massachusetts General Law, a person convicted of rape may be allowed visitation with the child conceived through that rape if a judge determines it is in the best interest of the child.
This stipulation in the law has led to situations in which survivors of sexual assault are forced into going to family court to fight child visitation requests made by their attacker. Under the proposed legislation, An Act protecting survivors of rape and their children, the courts would be barred from establishing custody, visitation, or any other parental rights in favor of the perpetrator of the rape.
“The fact that a rapist can seek visitation rights for a child conceived through rape is outrageous,” said Senator DiDomenico. “This provision in the law provides an opportunity for an assailant to threaten, manipulate, and harass his victim and child, subjecting them to a life of fear. No survivor of sexual assault or her child should have to go through this, and Massachusetts statute should absolutely provide necessary protections for these women.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are an estimated 17,000 to 32,000 rape-related pregnancies in the United States each year, and various studies have shown that between 32% to 50% percent of impregnated rape victims keep their babies. Rapists often file for visitation rights as a means of pressuring their victims not to press criminal charges or as a way to avoid paying child support. As a result, a rape survivor may be forced into facing her attacker in family court on multiple occasions, causing further trauma for her and her child, even if the rapist’s requests are ultimately denied.
The legislation filed by Senator DiDomenico would end the possibility of custody or visitation by stripping the parental rights of anyone who was convicted of or found by clear and convincing evidence to have fathered a child as a result of rape. The bill would not impede on a court’s ability to order a perpetrator of rape to pay child support.
This bill has been filed for the new 2017-2018 legislative session, and Senator DiDomenico’s office is currently soliciting Senate and House co-sponsorships for the bill.