A young Massachusetts woman and her family have suddenly been thrown into a nightmarish legal battle to keep her admitted rapist from seeking joint custody of the child he fathered from his crime. A probate court's decision to order the man to pay child support means that he can now also petition the court for joint custody, thanks to a surreal set of legal loopholes preventing rape victims from completely severing the paternal connection with their attackers.
According to Fox's Boston affiliate, the young woman was raped when she was just 14-years-old by an acquaintance from church, the 20-year-old boyfriend of her friend's older sister. "He threatened me," the girl told Fox reporter Mike Beaudet. "He told me that he could make my life upside down, and I wouldn't have anybody and he would pin it all on me. So I was scared." Nevertheless, when her mother learned of the incident, she and her daughter marched straight to the police to press charges. The girl, though, decided to keep the child, and now, despite a bout with anxiety and depression, she's being forced to deal with the very real possibility that her rapist will linger in her life for the foreseeable future.
Even though the Norfolk prosecutor asked for a three to five year prison sentence at the father's trial, Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire decided that it'd be way better to give him 16 years probation on the condition that he admit paternity and pay child support. Wendy Murphy, the family's attorney, takes issue first with the fact that this case went to family court rather than criminal court (where it belonged), and with Judge McGuire's seemingly misguided attempt to ensure the rapist provided financial support for his child:
The consequences of sentencing this man to probation for 16 years, which is really until the child becomes an adult, and making him declare paternity and pay child support, includes that this guy gets a legal father-child relationship out of the deal.
Murphy has filed a motion with the court asking the judge to amend sentencing conditions and order the man to pay restitution rather than child support. She explained,
All this family wants is to cut the cord. Get the rapist out of their lives. And if the judge wants to help them financially that's great. But let's call it restitution, not child support.
According to a 2010 study out of Georgetown, 16 states have so far closed a series of distressing legal loopholes that allow rapists who father children to seek joint custody. Though Massachusetts obviously has not yet grappled with the need to protect rape victims and their children from their attackers, Murphy is hoping that this case might help get the ball rolling. She has filed an emergency petition with a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to prompt the Superior Court judge, who has not yet ruled on her motion to reconsider the sentence, to act with a little more haste.