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March 06. 2014 8:09PM

Senate OKs bill to terminate parental rights of rapists

CONCORD — Terminating the parental rights of a rapist would be easier for the victim under a bill the Senate approved unanimously Thursday.

Rape victims who decide to keep a child conceived during a rape often have to make a deal with the perpetrator not to testify against him to end his claim for parental rights.

New Hampshire is one of 15 states that require a sexual assault conviction to terminate the parental rights of the rapist and one of 26 states to allow rapists to have full parental rights. Senate Bill 253 would change that.

The bill, which has bi-partisan support across the political spectrum, would terminate a man’s parental rights if he is convicted, pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a sexual assault, or after a court finds the child was conceived during a rape.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, said the victim often has to face the rapist again and again if he exercises his parental rights.

“That is a travesty and continues the victimization of the woman,” she said. “It’s time for New Hampshire to send the strong message to victims of rape ‘We are on their side.’” The state’s discretionary law to terminate parental rights would become mandatory with a conviction or guilty plea and a judicial fact-finding hearing finds the child was conceived during rape, under the bill.

Currently, parental termination is a two-step process. First the court has to find the parent is negligent, abusive or has abandoned the child or other such findings, and then the court has to determine if terminating parental rights is in the best interest of the child.

Supporters say 25,000 to 32,000 women in this country become pregnant as a result of rape a year, but only 8 percent of rapes are ever prosecuted. In New Hampshire, a recent study found only 3 percent were convicted or plead guilty.

Oftentimes rapists plead guilty to lesser offenses, ones that neither reflect the heinous crimes they commit nor prevent them from further terrorizing their victims by coming after their children in court, resulting in ugly custody battles that can last several years and ultimately retraumatize not only their victim, but her child as well, said Lasky.

The bill is supported by many organizations and activist groups including the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research, the Diocese of Manchester, Ending the Violence of Dover, NARAL and the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police.

The bill now goes to the House for action.

grayno@unionleader.com


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