Removing parental rights of sex offenders considered

Parental rights of convicted sex offenders could be terminated by a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee March 18.

LB358, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett, would require a county attorney to file a petition on behalf of the state to terminate the parental rights of the biological father of a child conceived as a result of a sexual assault. Parental rights of the biological father could be restored if the child’s mother or guardian consents, or the court finds it in the best interest of the child.

The bill also would prohibit the court from considering biological fathers of children conceived as a result of a sexual assault when attempting to preserve and reunify a family. If a biological father has been charged with a sexual assault, the bill would require a court to delay paternity action until guilt or innocence is determined.

Garrett said our country has a sexual assault problem, citing the 25,000 to 32,000 rape-related pregnancies reported each year. Sexual assault victims in Nebraska have only two options to guarantee their assailants remain out of their lives, he said: terminating the pregnancy or placing the child for adoption. These women deserve better protection from their assailants, he said.

“We are forcing mothers to bargain with their rapists in giving these criminals continual control of their victims,” Garrett said. “The bottom line is that they should not be forced to keep their assaulter in their lives and the lives of their children.”

A victim of rape testified in support of the bill, saying her decision to keep her baby should not have given her rapist the option to remain in her child’s life. Without a law protecting her family, she said, she is forced to co-parent with a person she does not trust, causing her stress and fear for the child’s safety.

“Rapists do not deserve parental rights. It is like rewarding them,” she said.

A Missouri parent of a rape victim also spoke in favor of the bill. When her daughter’s rapist sought full custody of her grandson, she said her family felt “lucky” that a judge denied him parenting privileges. Better legal avenues should exist to ensure families can fully sever ties with rapists, she said.

“Prevailing under these circumstances should not be about luck,” she said. “It should be about law.”

Robert Sanford, legal director for the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, also testified in support of the bill. Some states still require victims of sexual assault to acquire an assailant’s permission before placing a child for adoption, he said. LB358 would prevent mothers of children conceived by sexual assault from being repeatedly victimized, he said.

“This bill recognizes the power and control an attacker has over the victim months—and even years—later,” Sanford said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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