Delaware legislator expresses regret over offensive comments about statutory rape

Democratic Glasgow-area Representative Eric Morrison has offered an apology for the controversial statements he made during the April 17 House Education Committee meeting. The remarks in question were related to violent crimes outlined in the Delaware Code, with a specific focus on statutory rape.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives deliberated on Rep. Morrison’s House Bill 290 during the hearing. The bill aimed to make a provision for students with a prior conviction of a violent felony to become eligible for the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarship. This scholarship is currently offered by Delaware Technical Community College and the University of Delaware.

During the heated debate surrounding the bill, lawmakers found themselves at odds with each other. Rep. Morrison passionately defended his objective of providing second chances and access to higher education for convicted individuals in Delaware. He highlighted the fact that not all of the over 80 offenses listed in the state law are inherently violent.

The Glasgow Democrat mentioned various crimes such as racketeering, extortion, and bestiality. They also highlighted the issue of statutory rape, emphasizing that most of these crimes are not as violent as they are often portrayed in the law or in news reports.

“We are discussing the issue of statutory rape, specifically non-violent cases. I am aware that my use of the term ‘consent’ may not be entirely accurate, but we are referring to a situation where two individuals willingly participated,” clarified Rep. Morrison during the hearing on April 17th.

In Delaware, we have what are known as Romeo and Juliet laws. This means that there are situations where a 31-year-old individual could have consensual sex with a 17-year-old, and although they may be arrested and charged with a certain degree of rape, it is not the same kind of rape that we typically think of. Most of the rape cases we see fall into this category.

The Democratic lawmaker issued an apology on Wednesday following feedback from various individuals and organizations across the state. In his statement, the lawmaker expressed his commitment to furthering his efforts in developing policies that empower and safeguard survivors of sexual assault.

In a statement, Rep. Morrison acknowledges that his comments in the House Education Committee have had a triggering and upsetting impact on many individuals. After engaging in discussions with advocates, community members, and his colleagues, he recognizes that he did not effectively convey his intended message. Rep. Morrison extends his sincerest apologies for this and expresses remorse for any harm caused.

“I want to make it clear that I never intended to downplay the gravity of rape. I fully recognize the immense trauma and devastation that survivors of sexual assault experience.”

In his apology, Rep. Morrison mentioned several pieces of legislation that he has championed to protect survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

In September 2023, House Bill 151 was enacted, enabling domestic violence victims to seek protective orders specifically for cases of financial abuse. Additionally, there are other notable bills awaiting action, such as House Bill 327, which safeguards sexual assault victims from facing retaliatory lawsuits initiated by their perpetrators. Another essential legislation, House Bill 17, includes a provision requiring employers to grant time off to employees who are experiencing domestic violence, allowing them to address legal matters related to their situation.

During the House Education Committee hearing, Rep. Morrison’s comments faced criticism both from fellow House Republicans at the meeting and in the subsequent week.

During the committee’s consideration of the legislation, Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, criticized his colleague’s reasoning, accusing them of attempting to downplay the severity of violent crimes, such as drug dealing and rape.

The House Republican caucus released a statement on Wednesday to condemn the controversial remarks made by Rep. Morrison.

The House Republican caucus expressed their strong disagreement with Rep. Morrison’s statement, highlighting their concern not only with the factual inaccuracies regarding racketeering, extortion, and bestiality, but also with his views on sexual assault and rape.

The author expresses deep concern over the lawmaker’s belief that many sex offenders are misunderstood victims, and their nonchalant dismissal of the mental and physical trauma experienced by the victims of non-violent sex crimes. This level of hubris and misguided perspective is particularly troubling coming from a lawmaker, as it reveals a dangerous lack of understanding and empathy.

House Republicans have acknowledged and respected Rep. Morrison’s First Amendment rights. They also commend their Democratic colleagues for voting against the release of House Bill 290 from committee. However, they express deep disappointment that a week has gone by without the House Majority caucus condemning Rep. Morrison’s statements.

In a statement released on Thursday, the House Democratic leadership acknowledged Rep. Morrison’s apology. They emphasized the unity of the caucus in condemning all forms of sexual assault, including rape, as inherently violent.

Speaker of the House Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear; Majority Leader Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle; and Majority Whip Kerri Evelyn Harris, D-Dover, issued a statement expressing their commitment to building and healing, while acknowledging the impact of hurtful words. They emphasized their dedication to providing support and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence.

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