June 23, 2014 — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have introduced companion bills (HR 2772, S 2443) that would incentivize more states to allow rape survivors to seek termination of their rapists' parental rights, National Journal reports.
Several states require a conviction or proof of rape beyond a reasonable doubt for such parental rights to be revoked. Because of the high standard of proof, some rapists can sue their victims for child custody rights, according to National Journal.
However, 27 states have already taken steps to make it more difficult for rapists to obtain custody rights.
Because most custody battles take place at the state level, the bill aims to encourage states to change their laws by offering an additional $25 million in federal grant money through two current grant programs created under the Violence Against Women Act (PL 113-4). States would only be eligible for the funds if they allowed rape survivors to seek sole parental rights when there is clear and convincing evidence of a rape, rather than the current higher standard of proof.
The legislation is before both chambers' judiciary committees. It has 51 co-sponsors in the House, including eight Republicans and eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. Wasserman Schultz is working with Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) to garner support and is optimistic that the committee will hold a hearing or markup of the bill.
Meanwhile, the Senate version has seven co-sponsors, but none on the Judiciary Committee.
According to National Journal, passage of the bill is "a long-shot," but Wasserman Schultz disagrees.
Once lawmakers from both parties "learn the facts and listen to the stories of survivors and families," they will support the bill, she said, adding "The only people who lose in this bill are rapists" (Catalini, National Journal, 6/19).