A Massachusetts woman forced into a years-long battle against a man convicted of raping her when she was a child is once again preparing to face him after a state appeals court decided he can press his claim in family court for the right to visit the child conceived during the sexual assault.
The woman — referred to in court documents as H.T. — was just 14 years old when she was raped by then 20-year-old Jamie Melendez, whom she met at a church youth group.
As detailed in a March InsideEdition.com story on the subject, Melendez pleaded guilty to the rape in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years’ probation.
As a result of the rape, the eighth grader became pregnant. She went on to have a daughter, who is now seven.
The case was remanded to family court, where Melendez was ordered to pay $110 a week in child support. In turn, he filed for visitation rights, arguing that if he had to pay to support the child, he should be able to see her.
Now 22, H.T. has been fighting for years to keep her daughter away from the man convicted of raping her, most recently requesting that the Massachusetts Court of Appeals throw out a paternity ruling giving Melendez the right to fight for visitation.
But the Massachusetts Court of Appeals this week denied the woman’s request, giving Melendez the ability to press his claim in family court for the right to visit the little girl.
“We were very distraught and surprised, because this is not an ordinary case involving impregnation from rape, where the person is not convicted... This is a case where, not only do we have a criminal conviction, but a criminal conviction where the perpetrator impregnated a child,” H.T.’s attorney, Wendy Murphy, told InsideEdition.com Friday.
“The idea that our legal system could endorse the claim that, this is a person who became a father after being convicted of raping a child and causing the birth of another child, it’s just so shocking to me — as an attorney, and it’s shocking to me as a person who believes in the importance of civility; you have to have laws in place that reward and punish certain behaviors,” she continued. “They said basically that DNA alone creates a father, and I find that intolerable.”
Murphy, the director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project at New England Law School, said she will appeal the decision to the State Supreme Judicial Court.
“There’s no way my client is going to subject her little girl to visitation with the man who raped her,” Murphy said. “Just imagine the picture—consider a mom with her 7-year-old child, bringing her to the front door because there’s a strange man out front and insisting she get in the car. Explaining who he is, why he’s there … why she has to go. How is it possible for a legal system [to allow] for that moment to ever come in a child’s life? That’s what I’m most perplexed about.”
A parents’ rights law passed in Massachusetts in 2014 allows a judge to grant visitation to the father of a child born out of rape if the judge believes it is in the best interest of the child.
Murphy said the ruling may have farreaching effects not being considered by the court, as ejaculating during rape not only brings along the risk of pregnancy, but also STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
“Just from a public policy perspective, do we really want rapists to impose the added influence of body liquids?” she said. “We don’t want rape at all, but nor do we want there to be an incentive in the law for rapists to impose their body fluids and sperm in victims. Any rule of law that rewards ejaculation during rape will necessarily increase the public health consequence.
“Why are we overvaluing biology for a rapist?” Murphy continued. “We don’t … for sperm donors or people with IVF. We’re giving more status as a dad to a perpetrator than a non-rapist sperm donor who helps infertile couples. They can’t even go to family court! They’re not allowed... much less ask for visitation.”
If necessary, Murphy said she will take her client’s case to federal court and will continue to press lawmakers to advance bills aimed at protecting children born out of rape from their mothers’ attackers.
Speaking about her client, Murphy said: “She’s been distraught since the beginning of all this. She lives in a fairly constant state of anxiety. It’s really very, very difficult to have peace of mind with this ongoing threat of that rapist coming back into her life. The child is seven. [H.T. has] been waiting a long time for peace of mind.”
Attempts to reach Melendez were unsuccessful.