In July, we told you about the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, or RSCCA. The RSCCA is a bill working its way through the House of Representatives that would forbid convicted rapists of seeking custody rights to a child conceived during their rape.
Thirty-one states currently have no custodial rights protection for mothers of children conceived during rape.
Massachusetts is one of these states. The ongoing case of a Massachusetts woman identified as H.T. is becoming the latest example of why states need to beef up their child custody protection legislation against rapists.
H.T. was raped by Jaime Melendez in 2011. She was 14 at the time. Melendez broke into her house while H.T.’s mother was gone and forced her to have sex with him. She became pregnant and decided to keep the child.
Melendez showed no interest in the child until last year, when a judge ordered he pay H.T. $110 per week in child support. Upset by his child support payments, Melendez filed a motion with a Massachusetts family court saying that if he should have visitation rights to the child if he has to pay child support.
H.T., distraught by the idea of having the man who raped her spend time with her child, is now suing the state of Massachusetts in an effort to get state officials to stop Melendez from pursuing visitation rights.
H.T. filed a request that would have Melendez pay criminal restitution rather than child support, blocking him from visitation rights, but the presiding judge denied her request. Unless the state intervenes, H.T. will now have to spend time and money battling Melendez in court.
“My client is very worried she'll have to send her daughter off to this man she doesn't know, and tell her she'll be going off on visits with the man who raped her mother and created her," said her lawyer Wendy Murphy. "We're fiercely fighting against concept of even being in Family Court."
The state has not decided whether or not they will intervene on H.T.’s behalf.
The H.T.– Melendez case has prompted Massachusetts legislators to begin drafting legislation that would block convicted rapists from pursuing child custody rights.
Massachusetts’s Rep. Keiko Orrall filed a bill recently that would terminate the legal relationship between a child conceived during rape and the biological father. The bill has 13 co-sponsors.
“It’s a bipartisan group of legislators concerned about the safety of victims as well as their children," Orrall said. “I think it’s a terrible thing for someone who has been convicted of sexual assault to have visitation rights."