FOX UNDERCOVER - An admitted Massachusetts rapist is seeking visitation rights to the child he fathered after raping his underage victim, setting the stage for a precedent-setting legal fight in the Bay State.
The victim and her family are fighting back, saying the rapist is only showing interest in the family now that the child support bill is coming due.
"She got raped at 14. She decided to keep her baby. And now she has to hand her baby over for a visit with her rapist?" the victim's mother said.
The teen mother, who still suffers from severe anxiety and depression, says she's terrified at the thought of having to face the man who raped and impregnated her to arrange for visitation rights.
"He threatened me. 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," she told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
It happened when she was in eighth grade, just 14-years-old. He was a 20-year-old man she knew from her church, the boyfriend of her friend's older sister.
When her mother found out, they went to the police to press charges. But she decided to keep the baby.
"Being Christian, the way I looked at it, the way I thought of it, this is a baby, an innocent person that didn't do anything wrong. Like, why should I take away that life?" she said.
The man was charged with four counts of statutory rape of a child in 2009. Last year, he pleaded guilty to all the charges in Norfolk Superior Court. FOX Undercover isn't identifying the victim or the rapist to help protect her identity.
The Norfolk prosecutor asked for a three to five year prison sentence. But Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire sentenced him to 16 years of probation with the condition he acknowledges he's the father of the baby and abide by the probate and family court.
The probate court ordered him to pay child support, opening the door for him to request visitation rights with the child.
"He hasn't cared up until now. Why should he now? She's three. She doesn't know who he is," the teen mother told FOX Undercover.
The attorney for the man who admitted raping the teenager would not comment on his client's fight for visitation rights. But he did claim the relationship was consensual, even though he acknowledged it was inappropriate, given the victim was only 14 and his client was 20.
The family has hired attorney Wendy Murphy.
"Why was this case sent to family court? This isn't a family situation. This is a criminal situation," Murphy said.
Murphy believes the problem stems from the sentence imposed by Judge McGuire in the criminal case.
"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 said.
Murphy has filed a motion with the court, asking the judge to amend the sentencing conditions and order the man to pay restitution instead of child support, which would force him to support the child he fathered but not give him visitation and other parental rights.
Murphy's motion also asks that the man be ordered to stay away from the mother and the child.
"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," Murphy said.
Sixteen other states have already tackled this issue, according to a 2010 study in the Georgetown Law Journal, by enacting statutes to protect a raped woman who chooses to raise her child.
Nine of those states allow or require the termination of the rapist's parental rights, while the other seven allow or require stripping custody or visitation privileges.
Massachusetts is one of 34 states that has not addressed the issue.
Murphy hopes that will soon change. Because the Superior Court judge has yet to rule on her motion to reconsider the sentence, she has filed an emergency petition with a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to act.
"This was a young girl. Way, way beneath the age of consent," Murphy said. "If the judge thinks this isn't as serious as a stranger rape, and if this is a judge saying to himself, ‘I wouldn't have done this if it had been a stranger in a dark alley,' then that's a judge that maybe shouldn't be sitting on criminal cases because we got over that distinction I think 30 years ago."
"What kind of legal system commands a toddler into a relationship with the man who raped her mother?" she asked.
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