CREDIT: Matt Brown / AP
A Montana judge who recently sentenced a 14-year-old girl’s rapist to just 30 days in prison is defending his decision, even as hundreds of people picketed the courthouse in protest on Thursday. Although State District Judge G. Todd Baugh doesn’t see anything wrong with the sentence itself, he has apologized for his comments that the rape victim acted “older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control” of the situation as her rapist.
In 2007, a Montana teacher named Stacey Rambold raped a 14-year-old girl who later ended up committing suicide. On Monday, Baugh gave him 15 years in prison for his crimes — but suspended all but 30 days of that sentence. And when arguing the case, Baugh noted that the 14-year-old girl was acting “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year-old teacher who raped her.
That sparked considerable backlash. More than 30,000 people signed onto a MoveOn.org petition calling for the judge’s resignation. “Baugh places the responsibility for the situation on a troubled child — one who committed suicide just two years later — and excuses the criminal actions of an adult who violated the ethical standards and trust of his community,” the petition reads. “Baugh has engaged in the worst kind of victim shaming.”
And members of the community rallied at the Billings, Montana courthouse on Thursday afternoon, holding signs demanding justice for the victim, Cherice Moralez, and calling for Baugh to step down. “The demand and goal of this is to ask the judge to resign. The broader message is to really unite as a community against victim-blaming,” the protest’s organizer, Sheena Davis, explained. Davis noted that the protesters hoped to address “a larger issue on how we protect children from rape in this justice system.”
The victim’s mother, Auliea Hanlon, called the sentence was a “travesty” and said she was “horrified.” Hanlon told CNN that she was particularly upset about the judge’s comments that Cherice was somehow in control of the situation. “How could she be in control of the situation? He was a teacher. She was a student. She wasn’t in control of anything. She was 14,” she said.
Baugh has since issued a public apology for those statements, saying he “deserved to be chastised” for suggesting that Cherice was actually in control. Since she was just 14 years old, the relationship between her and her teacher is considered to be statutory rape — and particularly since Rambold was abusing his place of authority, it’s inappropriate to insinuate that he and Cherice were on equal footing.
The Montana judge has defended his sentence, however, saying that he believes Rambold is at a low risk of becoming a repeat offender. The prosecution entered into a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold after Cherice’s death — which means the charges against him would have all been dismissed if he had successfully completed a sex-offender treatment program and met other terms, like avoiding contact with children. But he broke some of those terms, and that’s why his case ended up before Baugh. The sentence ended up being rolled back to 30 days because Baugh determined the scope of infractions weren’t serious enough to merit more time in prison.
Unfortunately, Cherice is hardly the only young rape victim to take her own life. Earlier this year, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons killed herself after her school administration ignored evidence that she had been raped and her peers bullied her. And 15-year-old Audrie Pott killed herself after being allegedly gang-raped at a party, during which boys scribbled messages all over her unconscious body.