Ledger opinion columnist got it wrong
March 11, 2016
In a Feb. 28 opinion piece, columnist Wendy Murphy alleged that a Massachusetts law passed 18 months ago would grant parental rights to convicted rapists who impregnated their victims. The intent and interpretation of this law is the very opposite of what she asserts.
Before passage of Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2014, a victim whose child was conceived as an outcome of rape did not have any legal protections to prevent visitation by the perpetrator outside the existing best-interest standards. Sections 16 and 17 of the new law assist (not harm as Murphy claims) these victims by creating a presumption that in these circumstances visitation is not in the best interest of the child. It also places the burden on the biological father to prove visitation appropriate – not for the mother to prove it inappropriate. As a result, the law helps to protect victims of rape and their children.
Murphy is also wrong when it comes to the issue of termination of parental rights in cases of rape. There is no provision on this matter currently in Massachusetts law. The 2015 Federal Rape Survivor Child Custody Act incentivizes states with federal funding to put in place legislation that addresses just this issue.
We are also disheartened that Murphy maligns our two organizations. Jane Doe Inc. and the Women’s Bar Association were not silent regarding aspects of Chapter 260 before it was signed into law and specifically voiced our concerns regarding the standard of conviction as the trigger for this provision. Given that so few rapes actually result in a conviction in general, and far more women are impacted by rape and subsequent pregnancy than will ever see justice in a courtroom, we previously criticized this limitation in the final law.
Domestic and sexual violence advocates need to stand together rather than casting aspersions at one group or another and manufacturing controversy where none exists. The 2014 law was a major step forward in addressing the needs of sexual and domestic violence victims in family court as well as in criminal court, employment and education. Of course, there’s more work to be done. We invite anyone to join us as Jane Doe Inc. and the Women’s Bar Association continues to advocate for what is in the best interest of victims of rape and their children and for best practices to hold offenders accountable.
Debra J. Robbin is executive director of Jane Doe Inc. Kim Dougherty is president of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts