Facebook message spurs measure to aid rape victims

State Rep. Lori Berman

At age 29, Dave Kerner is part of the social media generation. "Facebook is the reality. It's how we communicate."

And it was Facebook that prompted one of his biggest achievements in his new job as a freshman state representative.

The Lake Worth Democrat said he learned from a Facebook message that a woman who is raped and gives birth as a result may find herself having to deal with the rapist-father asserting his parental rights.

The result was legislation — which passed and is awaiting action by Gov. Rick Scott — that would allow the mother who was a rape victim to get a court to sever those parental rights.

A victim could use a criminal conviction as proof. If there hasn't been a prosecution, the victim could still go to court, which would use a "clear and convincing evidence" standard to terminate the father's parental rights. That's an easier standard to meet than the "beyond reasonable doubt" required for a criminal conviction.

If the parental rights of the rapist-father are terminated, he won't have financial responsibility for a child. Kerner said the point was to "just completely sever the relationship and let the victim move on."

Kerner described the legislation, and how he came to introduce it, as he reported Thursday to the Voters Coalition, a Palm Beach County civic group, on his first legislative session.

He also won passage of a measure designed to restrict massage parlors, which he describe as "hotbeds for human trafficking." He said the establishments prey on women, who often don't speak English and don't know how to get help, who come or are brought to this country and put into the sex trade.

"We all believe in the theory of massage therapy," he said. "The problem is these massage parlors are open 'til 6 in the morning. The windows are tinted out. They have neon signs."

The proposed law would force them to close between midnight at 5 a.m. and ban employees from living within the premises.

Many Democrats in the Republican-controlled House have a tough time passing legislation.

State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said she wasn't able to get anything passed this year. She had sponsored a measure to impose background checks on all gun purchasers, but it didn't get a hearing.

Still, she said, she was proud of several legislative actions:

•A ban on texting while driving.

•Establishing a new kind of high school diploma for students moving toward vocations, not college.

•Allowing foster children to remain part of the care system until age 21 instead of forcing them out at age 18.

•Approving a $74 billion state budget that includes $4 million toward construction of a western campus for Palm Beach State College.

aman@tribune.com or 954-356-4550