Once again, the legal system has accepted the notion that certain men simply cannot stop themselves from having sex with others, regardless of how the others feel about it. It really should go without saying that consent is a required aspect of sex, but somehow people don’t get that message. Beyond all the harm this “boys will be boys” bullshit causes to others, how long does it have to go on before men start realizing just how damaging, and insulting, it is to men? If you have sex with someone without the other person’s consent, and you claim that the other person was somehow at fault, you are claiming that you can’t control your own genitalia. Thanks to male privilege, of course, this never gets imputed to all men, but that doesn’t stop a lot of guys from trying.
A Montana state judge sentenced a former teacher to about a month in jail, while suspending the remainder of his fifteen-year sentence, after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a student when he was 49 and she was 14. District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Yellowstone County reportedly stated in court that the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher, and that she was “older than her chronological age.” The defendant, Stacy Dean Rambold, reportedly pleaded guilty to a felony charge in April. The case had been deferred for several years, until prosecutors learned that Rambold’s sex offender treatment program had terminated him. The actual incident took place in 2008. The victim committed suicide in 2010.
Here’s the deal: statutory rape laws generally operate on a theory of strict liability, meaning that knowledge of an alleged victim’s age is not a required element of the crime. This can hypothetically lead to injustice in a case where, say, an alleged victim goes to great lengths to conceal their true age, and the defendant is genuinely unaware of their age. I don’t know how common or how rare such occurrences are, but it doesn’t matter here, because this teacher knew damn well that this student was 14 years old, well under the age of consent for Montana.
The judge’s statements, as reported in the media, are actually worse than the standard narrative of victim-blaming, because the victim, Cherice Morales was not there to defend herself, because she committed suicide at the age of 17. The Missoulian reported:
Baugh said he listened to recorded statements given by Morales before her death and believes that while she was a troubled youth, she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.
The judge also said Morales was “older than her chronological age.”
A judge listens to recorded statements made by a teenager, who was probably in a state of distress, three years after she made them, and concludes that she had the same legal and moral agency as an adult, specifically a schoolteacher, who was 49 years old at the time the offense occurred. He even specifically mentioned that she was a “troubled youth” in assessing, by some unknown metric, her non-chronological age.
I get that there is a certain—extremely limited—nuance to cases involving statutory rape, only in the sense that an alleged victim who is fifteen minutes away from attaining their state’s age of consent presents different issues than someone years younger. There is no clear dividing line in this regard, but again, it doesn’t matter in this case, because the victim was 14 years old.
To say that she was “as much in control” as a 49 year-old teacher, who has presumably had extensive education and training in how to interact with children, is to say that this teacher lacks the ability to control himself. The judge apparently did not elaborate on how the victim’s control of the situation played into what happened between the teacher and her, and we really don’t want to revisit it. That said, however, is this a warning that young girls need to be on guard against their own teachers, because those teachers will not always be expected to be the responsible adult?
If you have such little control over yourself as this former teacher, you need to seek help or remove yourself from society. I generally think our system of sex offender laws is completely screwed up, but this strikes as one case where they got it right. An evaluation reportedly said that this guy is “a low risk to re-offend and could be treated in the community,” but by his own admission, he has self-control problems around young teenagers.
I should also mention the defense’s line of argument. I generally don’t fault defense attorneys for using whatever reasonable defense is available, so my beef is with the mere fact that anyone would consider this defense to be reasonable at all:
Reminiscent of the Steubenville rape case earlier this year, the defendant’s attorney’s launched into “the poor rapist” line of defense, citing that the publicity surrounding the rape had cost Mr. Rambold his job, his marriage and his home and that he had suffered the equivalent of a “scarlet letter of the Internet”. Imagine that. A school teacher lost his job after raping a 14 year-old student three times and to add insult to injury his wife left him too. Damn that publicity, why will we as a nation and a community not just let him rape little girls in peace?
To give you a sense of setting, this all happened in Yellowstone County, Montana, where another county official is currently facing accusation of plagiarizing a letter to the editor he submitted to the Billings Gazette entitled “Why I hate Barack and Michelle Obama.”