KATIE ZERR: Montana case reveals archaic legal mindset


After weeks of protests and criticism from across the country, yesterday the Montana judge who created a national uproar when he sentenced a teacher to 30 days in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old student backed down and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh backtracked on the sentence, calling the 30-day sentence, which led to the creation of a nationwide petition demanding Baugh’s resignation, “an illegal sentence.”

The firestorm exploded when Baugh sentenced former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, to the paltry sentence after a case that lasted nearly five years.

Rambold was arrested in 2008 after it was discovered he had a sexual relationship with the young student at Billings Senior High School. He was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

As the case wound its way through the legal system, the girl committed suicide.

With the teen’s death, the prosecution entered into what is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” in which all charges against Rambold would be dismissed if he completed a sex offender treatment program and met other requirements. One of them was to have no contact with children.

Rambold was kicked out of the treatment program because he had contact with children and violated other rules of the program. He failed to meet the requirements of his plea deal, yet Baugh still saw fit to let him escape the punishment he deserved for the rape of a young girl.

Baugh said Tuesday that he’d misread state law and that he now believed Rambold should have faced, at minimum, two years in prison. Prosecutors had asked the judge to send Rambold away for 20 years.

Not only was the sentence one of the most ridiculous miscarriages of justice in recent history, but Baugh’s comments at the sentencing reveal the ugly underbelly that still exists in our legal system today.

Baugh actually said the victim, who had a learning disability, “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher.

He eventually apologized for comments he made in court, but the damage was done. The judge, like many others in the case of rape, blamed the victim.

The defense argued that Rambold had suffered enough. His lawyers said he lost his career and his marriage and has the “scarlet letter of the Internet” due to the publicity surrounding the case.

A child was violated by an adult, her life made so miserable by the publicity and the reaction of her peers and others that she chose to end it, and yet these lawyers had the gall to use the “our client is a victim” defense.

This is another example that we have not moved out of the Dark Ages in our attitudes towards women and sexual assault.

This may only be one case, but it is not the only one. There is case after case in which rapists are getting a slap on the wrist instead of what is deserved.

There is a double standard in the courts when it is the women who are the rapists and the victims are young men.

Judges and prosecutors lean towards lighter sentences for women who take advantage of these children.

Rape is rape, no matter who the perpetrator.

Women should be held just as accountable for their crimes as men in rape cases.

Could it be that the male judges and prosecutors still believe that when the rape involves a female perpetrator, it is not really rape?

Boys can be raped. Women who abuse young males are just as guilty of rape as men who abuse young females.

The backlash in the Montana case was enough to force the judge to change his mind, but is it enough to change the minds of others in the judicial system?

We need our judges and lawyers to move out of the Dark Ages and into reality when it comes to rape.


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