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Maryland rapists can still sue for custody, hold up adoptions

A bill that would have protected the victims of rape who conceived during the assault has failed to pass in Maryland — again.

That leaves Maryland among only seven states in the nation that don’t have any laws addressing the parental rights of rapists.

As things stand, if a Maryland rape victim conceives and decides to carry the child to term, she cannot give the baby up for adoption without having to negotiate with her rapist. Similarly, if the rapist wants, he can take her to court for visitation or custody.

If you’re thinking that it’s unlikely to happen, think again. Approximately 5 percent of rape victims who are within child-bearing age conceive during the assault. Slightly less than 40 percent of those victims will decide to have the baby.

Victim advocates say that there are cases where the rapist threatens to assert his parental rights or refuses to agree to put the child up for adoption unless the mother agrees not to testify against him over the rape. Avoiding what amounts to a lifelong tie to her abuser can be a powerful incentive for a woman to agree.

It’s important to remember that many of the laws in the nation that do protect rape victims require a conviction in order to become effective. In other states, the family court judge can make the decision whether or not the protective laws apply. Those states are considered the most friendly to rape victims and most reflective of the reality faced by women who have endured sexual assault — nationally, out of every 1000 rapes, only 7 will result in a felony conviction. The vast majority of rapes are never even reported to the police.

Supporters of the failed bill are furious, especially since it had broad support among diverse groups that are usually opposed to each other, like Planned Parenthood and the Maryland Catholic Conference.

For their part, Assembly members claim a printing delay and issues reconciling two versions of the bill simply caused them to run out of time to take a vote — so the bill can’t be voted on until the General Assembly returns to its regular session in January, 2018.

Regardless of your situation, if you need help navigating Maryland’s custody laws, consider hiring an attorney to help you as soon as you suspect you may have a problem.

Source: broadly.vice.com, “All Male Committee Ensures Rapists Still Have Parental Rights to Victims' Kids,” Kimberly Lawson, April 18, 2017

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