Victims plead for end to Nebraska rapists' parental rights

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska should close a legal gap that allows convicted rapists to gain custody or visitation rights to children conceived through rape, a lawmaker urged a legislative committee on Friday.

Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha said a young woman contacted her last summer looking for help from the Legislature because courts were requiring her to let her daughter spend time with the girl's biological father. He pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual assault after impregnating the woman.

The state contacted him as the girl's father when her mother applied for Medicaid benefits, and he succeeded in obtaining unsupervised visitation rights. A court is now considering granting the man overnight stays as well, Howard said.

"She's forced by the state of Nebraska to co-parent her child with the man who raped her," she said.

Howard read a letter from the woman, who was unable to drive to Lincoln to testify because of snow. She wrote that the man had urged her to obtain an abortion or give her daughter up for adoption, and the girl now dreads spending time with her biological father.

"I feel like a terrible mother, lying to her child to tell her it will be OK to go stay with my rapist," she wrote.

Nebraska revokes parental rights for people convicted of first-degree sexual assault on a minor, following legislative intervention after a man in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl attempted to block a couple from adopting the child he fathered with the girl. However, that narrow law doesn't apply to cases in which victims are adults.

Attempts to expand it to adults haven't succeeded in previous years. Howard said her measure would address concerns in previous years by allowing sexual assault survivors with children to apply to terminate the other parent's parental rights instead of automatically terminating rights.

The legislation provides a form for support for sexual assault survivors, said Stephanie Huddle, public policy coordinator of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

"You are assuring victims of sexual assaults you care not only about their safety but the wellbeing of their children," she said.

A federal law signed by then-President Barack Obama in May 2015 provides financial incentives for states with laws that allow mothers with children conceived through rape to terminate their rapists' parental rights. About 35 states and the District of Columbia have laws terminating rapists' parental rights or restricting custody, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A high school senior who was sexually assaulted in middle school told the committee passing Howard's bill would help victims to move on from their assaults. The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault.

"I'm here as a survivor to tell you that no means no, and that should not result in privileges for the rapist," she said.

The bill had no opposition.


Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at /JMShumway

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