In 2008, high school teacher Stacey Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. The victim, Cherice Morales, was 14 at the time, and in 2010 committed suicide. Rambold will serve 30 days in jail.
The paltry sentence and statements issued by District Judge G. Todd Baugh defending his sentencing decision brings up the issue once again of the apathy some people feel towards sexual assault.
Baugh, during the sentencing, stated that Morales was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold and declared her “older than her chronological age.” As if that matters.
On Tuesday, he defended his sentencing decision saying “people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.” As if that matters.
On Wednesday, Baugh apologized for his statements but remained steadfast with the sentence.
The embarrassing 30-day sentence is the culmination of a complicated prosecution that was forced to cut a probationary deal after Morales committed suicide (the Morales family blamed the rape and pending trial as the reasons for their daughter’s distress, and won a $91,000 settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit). According to the "Billings Gazette," the terms of the deal outlined a three-year probation during which Rambold would be required to complete a sex offender treatment program, among other conditions.
At the conclusion of the probationary period, the case would be dismissed.
Rambold was kicked out of the treatment program, violated a few other conditions of his probation, and despite the prosecution’s recommendation of a 20-year sentence with 10 years suspended, he will get 30 days in jail with the rest of the formal sentence, 15 years, suspended.
What went wrong? Surely this says a lot about the institutional failure of the justice system when a rapist gets nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
But outrage should extend far past an unfortunate legal technicality. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are grossly underreported, a topic that has been discussed extensively in recent years. This is especially prevalent on college campuses where only five percent of college women report rape to the police, according to various college and university sexual assault prevention programs citing Robin Warshaw’s “I Never Called it Rape.”
It seems that increasingly talking about sexual assault has become the most uncomfortable form of taboo. Blaming the victim is an oft-repeated punch line, as if what a woman wears justifies her assault.
Attitudes about sexual assault are approaching appalling territories. If a judge can confidently sit on the bench and declare that a 14-year-old girl had as much control over her situation as her attacker, what does that say about our attitudes as a whole? It says that we have become entirely too laissez-faire about sexual assault. That is, until someone in a position of authority misses the big picture and says something absurd.