HONOLULU (AP) — A parent of a child conceived through rape in Hawaii could lose parental rights if they're accused of sexual assault.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a bill Wednesday which aims to deprive rapists of parental rights.
Without the new law, victims of sexual assault could be forced to endure ongoing involvement of the rapist in the upbringing of the child, which could further endanger both the survivor and the child, according to the Honolulu-based Sex Abuse Treatment Center.
"We all know that sexual assault by itself is a horrible event, but clearly having to bear the child of the rapist is even worse," Ige said.
The Hawaii Attorney General's Office says rape is one of the most under-prosecuted crimes, with less than 5 percent of rapes leading to convictions.
Before the new law, parental rights could only be terminated if the perpetrator was convicted of rape, which requires evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt." Now a parent can lose their rights if a court finds there's "clear and convincing evidence" of sexual assault, which is less difficult to prove.
"I think it acknowledges a very real situation that is not often discussed, which is that sexual assaults can result in pregnancy, and mothers choose to raise their children in many cases," said Justin Murakami, policy research associate at the Center. "It's a powerful symbolic statement by the state of Hawaii that we do protect survivors of sexual assault and their children."
There are between 17,000 and 32,000 rape-related pregnancies in the U.S. every year, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. The group says nearly two dozen states allow for termination of parental rights if a parent was convicted of sexual assault which resulted in the birth of a child.
The bill was prompted by the federal Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which provides federal funding to states that enact such laws.