Hawaii looks to strip parental rights from rapists

HONOLULU (AP) — A man who fathers a child through rape in Hawaii has the same legal rights to custody that any other father does, unless he was convicted for the rape.

Hawaii lawmakers hope to change that. A proposed law passed through the House Committee on Judiciary Thursday would instead allow the courts to deprive rapists of parental rights as long as there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that a child was conceived during a sexual assault.

Rape is one of the most under-prosecuted crimes, with less than 5 percent of rapes leading to convictions, according to the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office. The department says rapists may use the threat of pursuing custody to coerce survivors from pressing charges.

On a national level, most states have passed laws to protect for women who have children as a result of sexual assault. So far, around 10 states have adopted the “clear and convincing” standard, which is a lower burden of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required in criminal courts.

The Hawaii bill was introduced as part of Gov. David Ige’s legislative package for the 2016 session in response to federal law passed last year. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act of 2015 increases funding for states that that allow for termination of parental rights for sexual assault based on the “clear and convincing” standard.

Julie Ebato of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office said the state could get over $127,000 in additional funding. The department hasn’t figured out how it would use the money yet, but it could be used help victims by providing money for police, prosecutors and service providers.

For instance, Ebato said the money could help chip away at the Honolulu Police Department’s backlog of about 1,500 of untested rape kits. The kits contain specimens and DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims to be used as evidence.

“This bill will better protect these victims from further trauma or harassment by rapists seeking parental rights,” Ebato said.

The Sex Abuse Treatment Center, a program of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, supported the bill, saying the state’s demand for services has rapidly outpaced the state’s capacity to deliver services for sexual assault.

Hawaii’s rate of rape has decreased since 2004. Yet the rate increased over 20 percent from 2012 to 2013, which is the most recent data available for the entire state. Data shows rape rates increasing again slightly in two of the four main counties in 2014.

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