SANTA FE – Former New Mexico House Speaker Ken Martinez came under fire Monday for comments he made last week about rape, with Republican lawmakers demanding an apology and local leaders of several anti-domestic violence groups coming to the veteran lawmaker’s defense.
During a March 4 committee hearing on a bill dealing with stripping the parental rights of convicted rapists, Rep. Martinez was discussing the details of the legislation when he said, “Rape is defined in many ways and some of it is just drunken college sex.”
In a video recording of the House Judiciary Committee, archived on Gov. Susana Martinez’s website, it is difficult to make out Martinez’s exact words after the comment in question. The comment did not appear to elicit an immediate reaction in the committee room.
However, Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, said in a Monday statement released by House Republicans that Martinez should apologize.
“It is simply inexcusable that Rep. Kenny Martinez dismissed a serious crime as nothing more than a night of ‘drunken college sex,’ ” said Fajardo, the House GOP’s caucus chairwoman. “His comments are belittling to anyone who has ever been a victim and survivor of sexual abuse, and I hope that he will apologize.”
Martinez, a Grants Democrat, said Monday that the comment was made during a discussion of how terminating a convicted rapist’s parental rights would affect child support payments and how court hearings should be handled in adoption cases stemming from rape.
He did not apologize for the comment and blasted Fajardo’s statement as a political stunt, saying, “This ‘gotcha’ politics on such an important issue is absolutely a shame.”
Leaders of local sexual assault victims’ aid groups also came to the defense of Martinez, describing him as a longtime backer of assault victims.
“There are a lot of different kinds of rape,” said Sheila Lewis, director of Santa Fe Safe, a group that works to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. “What the representative was speaking about was one of the most serious kinds of rape – when young women are intoxicated and do not give consent.”
Martinez, a nine-term lawmaker, served as House speaker for two years, starting in January 2013. He lost the powerful post due to a Republican takeover of the House for the first time in 60 years and did not seek a different legislative leadership post.
The University of New Mexico has been at the center of a controversy involving sexual assault, including an encounter involving UNM football players. Criminal charges against two players and another man were dropped last year, and the woman has filed a lawsuit against the university for what she said was a shoddy investigation aimed at getting the players back on the football field.
The lawsuit alleges the woman was likely the victim of a date rape drug. But the men have denied the rape allegations and maintained the sexual acts with the woman were consensual. They have also threatened to file their own lawsuit against UNM.
The university also is the target of a federal Department of Justice investigation over its sexual assault policies and procedures.
The bill under discussion at the time of Martinez’s comments was House Bill 387, which would allow rape victims to ask courts to terminate the parental rights – including custody and visitation – of the individuals convicted of raping them.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, was approved 11-0 in the House Judiciary Committee, with Martinez among the committee members voting in favor.
It is pending on the House floor.