Thursday, August 22, 2013

Paternity Rights in Rape Cases

It's an interesting moral dilemma to have a judge decide a child has access to a father when the only contact the mother and father had was a sexual assault producing this child.  This isn't entirely the story here.  In this article, it could be a case of statutory rape.  It's possible there was a relationship for a while, that led to vocally consensual, yet not actually legal, sex.  It's not clear from the article if it was a guy jumping out of the bushes or a romantic tryst gone wrong or something in between.

The young mother, H.T."says she lived with her mother, who had to quit her job to care for the baby."

Well...the grandmother didn't have to quit her job to support the baby.  That was a choice she made - a difficult choice, but not the only possibility.  It makes me nuts when someone says they "had to" make some sacrifice for someone.  Apparently abortion wasn't on the table even though she was 14 when she gave birth, but that could have been an alternative to suffering caused by one fewer paycheque in the family.  It was her choice to leave her job.  But that's just a minor point.


This detail gives a certain flavour to the story:
After a family court judge ordered Melendez to pay $110 a week in child support, Melendez asked for visitation rights, and offered to withdraw his request in exchange for not having to pay child support, according to the lawsuit.
Is it reasonable to ask for child support, but refuse access to the child being supported?  It's a bit of a conundrum to want support but want zero contact with the dad.  I can totally understand why she'd want that, but I'm not sure it's reasonable to ask for it.  I could see suing for pain and suffering in one lump-sum payment instead, but that wasn't allowed by the judge.  Curious.  

But asking specifically for child support clarifies that this man has a responsibility for this child - not a cash settlement for what he did to the mom.  If he has a financial responsibility to the child, why wouldn't he have a paternal responsibility as well in the form of a developing relationship.

Rapists come in many different forms.  He could be someone who gets pleasure from another's pain, or who relishes the dominating experience, who feels no remorse and needs intensive treatment.  Or he could be a reasonably good man who inconsiderately got carried away and followed his own pleasure at the expense of her pain just this once.  He could be remorseful and ashamed.  He could want to distance himself out of guilt over the experience rather than out of malice.  

So what if, in a hypothetical case, he wasn't petitioned for support, but actively sought out visitation.  Legally, many places would deny him anyway, but ethically, what should his rights be?  It would be hard on the mom to deal with him again, but she's only one/third of the equation.  If he wants contact with the child, and the child could benefit from having a loving dad, then should he have that privilege?  

I doubt it would lead to childless men raping in order to produce offspring for themselves - at least not in areas where abortion is free and accessible.  So, to what extent does the harm caused to the mother by ongoing contact trump any potential benefit to the child?  Or is that benefit wiped clear by the mother's anxiety around the child because the dad's in the picture?  Having a dad to play with can be great for a kid, but not if it means mom's losing it.  

Right now, some abusive men are allowed access to their children when it seems in nobody's best interest.  The rapist isn't necessarily going to be abusive to the child.  But does that one act paint them as bad father material forever?  Should they be banned from having any children ever?  If not, then should they be allowed to father this child regardless how the child was conceived?  

I'm not sure.   

3 comments:

  1. My, this is a pretty complicated case. By order of court unless otherwise appealed by Melendez, he is liable to child support as the court had granted that right of the mother. However, access the child as well can be achieved by Melendez should he decide to pursue his appeal. Finally, I think the appeal of Melendez to barter his child support in exchange of not seeing the child, will not be approved by the court. First and foremost, I do not think that the court accepts a quid pro quo decision. Second, he was already proven to have raped the girl and is actually the guilty party who is simply appealing his case. And third, it would be unwise on the part of the court to constantly expose the mother to the attacker as it raises up dark memories and might cause emotional unrest on her part.

    Lynette Mcguire

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  2. I think at the end of the day, the issue here is whether or not the father will have the ability to create a bargain with the judge. However the case here is he can’t. First of all, he is already convicted by the judge for the crime and required to also pay for child support. Second of all, yes, he should have a paternal rights and visitation agreements over the child but that is still subject upon the judge’s approval as it will cause the victim to relive some trauma of the rape. Overall, I think the rapist would be disallowed visitation rights, but still be mandated by law to continue child support.
    Vesta Duvall

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  3. Wow. That is really a tight case. I think that in cases of rape that result in a woman bearing a child, the rapist should be commanded by law to stay away from the victim. Despite his paternal claims towards the child, visits with the child would only exacerbate the trauma felt by the victim. Furthermore, the rapist has no reason whatsoever to conduct a bargain plea of no child support. He might try appealing it, but I doubt if it would be granted.

    Kim Hunter

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