In Love and Illegal?
Thirty-year-old mother of four Melissa Dilan-Hernandez made headlines when she was charged with unlawful sexual activity with certain minors, stemming from her relationship with her fiancé, T.J., who is 17 years old and the father of her 4-month-old daughter. Melissa is facing up to 15 years in prison and may have to register as a sex offender, yet she says she still doesn’t consider their relationship a crime. How does she justify her love affair with a minor — and planning a pregnancy with him? T.J. says he wants to spend the rest of his life with Melissa — but is he willing to wait for her if she goes to jail? And, could their romance stand in the way of his aspirations of becoming a U.S. Marine or police officer? T.J.’s father, Ed, and stepmother, Sea, weigh in with their thoughts on the relationship. Do they approve? Plus, don’t miss Dr. Phil’s stern advice for Melissa and T.J. — and for any teen who may be blindsided by love.
Love or Crime?Melissa says when she first met T.J. on Facebook two years ago, he told her that he was 18, and they had an instant connection. “He told me that I was cute, and then I told him, ‘Send me a message,’” she explains. She says by the time T.J. confessed his actual age, they were already emotionally attached. “So, I still decided to continue the relationship with him.” She continues, “Some say that our love is wrong, but our personal belief is that it doesn’t really matter how old you are; love is love.” Melissa and T.J. have a 4-month-old daughter together and are now engaged to be married. “The moment that he proposed was particularly emotional,” she says. “That is something that I did not expect, especially from a person his age.”
Melissa says despite being charged with unlawful sex with certain minors, she doesn’t feel like she has committed a crime. “I want the world to know that T.J. and I are in love and that we are both capable of fighting against any other person who would say that our love is not possible,” she says. “I am not a predator or a sex offender.”
“I really love her. She’s a good person. She’s a good mother,” T.J. says about Melissa. T.J. admits that his own mother left when he was 6 or 7. “I don’t know why she did, and I really love her and miss her,” he says. He says that his stepmother, Sea, always seems to be against him and doesn’t provide the care and nurturing he desires.
“The only person I can see myself with is a woman who is going to take care of her children, who’s not going to abandon them; and that’s how [Melissa] is,” T.J. says.
“You cannot give consent, legally or psychologically, to enter into the relationship that you are in with her,” Dr. Phil tells T.J. “That’s why she is culpable and you are not.”
Ed explains how the charges were brought against Melissa: About a year ago, T.J. and Melissa got into an argument over T.J. talking to another girl, and T.J. decided to turn Melissa in to police. “I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” Ed says he asked his son. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’m done with her.’” He says he took T.J. to the police station to fill out a report against Melissa. Two days later, he says the couple reconciled, and T.J. was regretful for what he had done. “I said, ‘You know, you’re going to have to live with this,’” Ed says he told his son.
“To my understanding, it was not T.J. who went to the authorities, it was one of the relatives,” Melissa says.
Will He Wait?
Melissa says she feels so pressured and judged that no one knows who she really is. “I want a chance for people to get to know me,” she says. “I am not a predator ... I did not set out to go after him.”
“There is a way you can get through this without doing 15 years,” Dr. Phil tells Melissa. “But with the attitude you’ve got — you’re playing the victim here — and lady, you’re not the victim; you’re the perpetrator.”
When asked whether she understands that she’s not the victim, Melissa thinks for a moment and responds, “I feel like I have been set up.”
“Set up?” Sea responds.
“No. I’m trying to get you help,” Ed responds.
Dr. Phil tells Melissa that she completely ignored everything he just said. “You just totally blew me off and kept telling your victim story,” he says. “If I were you, and I had stepped up and said, ‘You want to know how to stay out of jail?’ I believe I’d have shut my mouth and opened my ears.”