A convicted rapist of a 14-year-old high school student was released from prison after spending only one month in jail. According to an article in the Helena Independent Record on February 5th, 2014, the state judge who issued such a lenient sentence may receive disciplinary action by a judicial oversight board. The judge’s rationale for his decision became international news. His reasoning sparked protests, and commentary about the treatment of adolescents and the topic of rape.
According to the Billings Gazette, on Monday, August 26, 2013 Stacey Rambold was sentenced to serve “15 years in prison with all but 30 days suspended, for a single count of felony sexual intercourse without consent.” Judge G. Todd Baugh’s attempts to explain why he ordered the light sentence drew widespread attention. Later, the Judge apologized for the comments he made, but maintained that the 30-day prison sentence was appropriate.
The right to be treated as a minor:
The Billings Gazette reported that Judge Baugh said the victim was “older than her chronological age” of 14, and that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold, a high school teacher. Even if she had been “older” in her thinking, actions, or maturity, this adolescent girl had the right to be treated as a child. An adult should not have had a sexual relationship with her, no matter how consenting she may have seemed to be. NBC News reported that during her testimony, Auleia Hanlon (mother of the victim) indicated the rape contributed to her daughter’s subsequent decision to commit suicide. An Associated Press article by Matthew Brown described Pete Taylor, a Billings restaurant employee, who joined protesters a few days after the sentencing wearing a t-shirt on which he had written “14 is 14.” Taylor seemed to have an understanding of teenagers than Judge Baugh did not. The brief message on his t-shirt was unmistakably clear.
Abolish the double standards:
People sometimes blame a rape victim. In our society, a double standard exists. Girls who engage in sexually active behavior or wear tight or skimpy clothing are thought of as “promiscuous” or “easy.” Similar behaviors by boys are often shrugging off, or even condoned – “Boys will be boys.” Girls are expected to maintain their virginity; boys brag about losing theirs. “She was asking for it” is a common justification.
The current “rape culture mentality” of our society needs a major overhaul. We must not only decrease the occurrence of rape, but also obliterate the shame of being a rape victim. This profound stigma frequently impacts the rest of a victim’s life, and, as in this case, can even lead to suicide. Historically, we have focused on teaching girls to not be provocative; more importantly we must educate both genders to respect one another, and stand up for victims. No matter what led up to it, rape in any case is wrong. Even if the act of sex is initially consensual, any time a participant wants to stop, it is time to stop. Rape is never the fault of the victim.
Keep kids safe at school:
Another unsettling fact – as if the rape victim being a child, and considered “in control of the situation” is not enough – the victim was a student and the perpetrator was her teacher. We trust our teachers to watch over, guide and keep our children safe while they are away from us at school. Ms. Hanlon probably trusted Stacey Rambold; that trust was breached when he had sex with her daughter.
This case should prompt us to ask hard questions. “Did any adults know of the ongoing relationship this student had with her teacher, and if so, what should have been done to prevent it? How can we protect our school children, and ensure that teacher/student relationships remain appropriate? What are appropriate sanctions for rape, and how much latitude in sentencing should a judge be allowed?
Faith in the system:
Many people found Judge Baugh’s decision too sparing and his rationalizations inflammatory, insensitive, and ignorant. This case could become a needed catalyst for change, bringing to light this unbelievable bias. A teenager is never “as much in control of a situation as an adult” and should never bear the burden of being judged as being “older than her chronological age.” The crime of rape is never the victim’s fault, and teachers should never have intimate relationships with their students.
This case has apparently decreased many people’s confidence in the courts. Perhaps, if Judge Baugh is appropriately disciplined, and if the prosecution wins the appeal regarding Stacey Rambolt’s sentence, some of that faith may be restored.
Articles referenced in this editorial:
Board says Montana judge should be disciplined, by Matthew Brown, Helena Independent Record, 2/4/14
Montana rapist, former teacher, released from prison after 30 days, NBC U.S. NEWS
Mont. judge’s apology rejected by victim’s mother, by Matthew Brown, A.P., The Seattle Times, 2/7/14
Former Senior High teacher gets 30 days for rape of student, by Greg Tuttle, Billings Gazette, 8/26/13
More by Susan Foster:
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