Utah bill would bar rapists from child custody

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, walks on to the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers are moving to protect women who become pregnant as a result of rape and choose to raise that child. The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve such a measure. It would bar convicted rapists from gaining custody rights to the children they fathered through rape. Under current Utah laws, courts can grant custody and visitation rights to convicted rapists. Rep. Arent said Monday that the laws in place force some women to relive the terror of rape and fear for the safety of their children. The bill is on its way to the governor for approval. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah lawmakers moved Wednesday to bar convicted rapists from gaining custody of children fathered through rape.

Utah courts can now order women who become pregnant after being raped and choose to raise the child to yield to custody and visitation rights of the convicted rapist.

The state Senate, however, voted unanimously to change that situation, approving a bill to deny custody rights to convicted rapists. Under the measure, the attackers would still be on the hook for child support.

The bill now goes to the governor for consideration.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, the sponsor of the bill, said he was spurred to craft the legislation by the case of a woman in another state who said she was raped in 2004 while she was a law student. She had a daughter as a result and received papers from the rapist seeking custody of the child.

Hall said he was appalled by the situation.

Holly Mullen, executive director of the Utah Rape Recovery Center, said she was surprised to learn that current state law would allow convicted rapists to gain the right to visit and parent the children.

No humane state, she assumed, would have a law on the books allowing a convicted rapist to gain custody or visitation rights.

Mullen applauded the proposed measure, saying, “I think it just underscores the notion that victims of rape, survivors of rape, have enough to go through dealing with the physical and mental anguish of crime.”

One in three Utah women endures some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime, a rate Mullen called alarmingly high.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said laws permitting convicted rapists to be a part of a child’s life force some mothers to relive the terror of the attack.

Rep. Eric K. Hutchings, R-Kearns, said the measure would right “a very horrible wrong that somehow got stuck and fell through the cracks.”

At least a dozen other states have similar laws.

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