A frightened 22-year-old mother is facing the nightmare that her rapist from 7 years ago, Jamie Melendez, has a good chance of being granted visitation rights to see their child.
This past week the Massachusetts Court of Appeals rejected the mother’s request to deny her rapist the ability to contest for paternal visitation rights.
In 2014, a disturbing law was passed in Massachusetts allowing a family court judge to grant visitation rights to a rapist if it was “in the best interest of the child.”
In an interview by the Herald, the mother said, “It makes me very scared. My main priority is to keep my daughter safe.” She reveals her deepest worries saying, “I don’t want to go to family court with a man that raped me. I don’t want to worry that a man who raped me will come and take my daughter. I want them to recognize it is not a family.” The woman, who is going by H.T., is hoping that the courts won’t “let her down.”
H.T.’s lawyer, Wendy Murphy, says she will take this appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if needed. Murphy is the director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project at the New England Law School. She says this case is the “first time an appeals court answered the question of whether a convicted rapist has any parental rights to go to family court.”
Murphy also mentions how “exceedingly dangerous” these rulings are, which may encourage more rapists to drag their rape victims to family court. Murphy plans on convincing lawmakers of the dangers that could arise if convicted rapists are allowed visitation rights, and calling on them to pass bills that protect the victims.
The nightmare began for H.T. in 2009 at the age of 14, when she met then 22-year-old Jamie Melendez. Melendez had been dating a friend of H.T.’s older sister when he learned of how often H.T. would be alone after coming home from school. According to Murphy, Melendez used those opportunities to rape her between 3 to 4 times.
In May of 2009 Melendez was arrested and charged with four counts of rape of a minor. After being violated by Melendez, H.T. became pregnant but, because of her religious beliefs, she decided to keep the baby.
After undergoing a paternity test, it was proven that the child was his and, in September of 2011, Melendez pleaded guilty to the multiple rape of H.T. Melendez was sentenced to 16 years probation and forced to begin family court proceedings, which ordered him to pay $110 a week in child support.
H.T. opposed the sentence as she wanted absolutely nothing to do with her rapist. She didn’t desire a legal relationship that allowed a judge to dictate the interaction between her daughter and Melendez.
Melendez’ request for visitation rights was initially denied by a family court judge in 2014 who, according to a statement made in the Herald, believed it was being used as a “bargaining chip” to help reduce child support payments.
Rapists now have the ability to threaten visitation in order to get out of child support by using their “paternal rights” from the DNA match as a form of intimidation.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia, along with twelve other states have denied or restricted custody and visitation if the child was conceived as a result of sexual assault.
Now, seven years after the rape, H.T. is working two jobs as well as attending nursing school, said Murphy.
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