Judge Says 14-Year-Old Was ‘in Control’ When She Was Raped by Adult Teacher

A Montana judge is making national headlines for comments he made after sentencing a school teacher to a mere 30 days for raping a 14-year-old student who has since committed suicide. The reasoning behind his decision, and even the wording of his subsequent public apologies, show just how much he (and the rest of us) have left to learn about issues of rape and consent.

The case began in 2008 when prosecutors charged high school business teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, now 54, with three counts of rape for having sex with Cherice Morales when she was 14. The case was still pending in 2010 when Morales took her own life shortly before her 17th birthday. Without a star witness, prosecutors decided to make a deal with Rambold under which—had he upheld his end of the bargain—he would have gotten no jail time at all. He admitted to one count of rape (knowing it could be used against him in the future) in exchange for them dismissing all charges against him if he completed a three-year treatment program for sex offenders. Rambold entered the program in July 2010 but stopped attending sessions in the summer of 2012. In November 2012, he was kicked out of the program when administrators learned that, in violation of the program’s rules, he was having unsupervised visits with minors and had entered into a sexual relationship with a woman without informing his treatment supervisor.

When prosecutors found out that he was no longer in the program, they revoked their deal, refiled charges, and asked the judge to sentence Rambold to 20 years, with ten years suspended; this would have meant ten years in prison. Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh, however, did not believe that Rambold’s crime deserved that harsh a sentence. Instead, he sentenced him to 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and he gave him credit for one day already spent in jail—meaning Rambold will only spend 30 days behind bars.

Baugh explained his decision by saying that the victim was a “troubled youth” who was “older than her chronological age.” Even though 14-year-olds cannot legally give consent in Montana (the age of consent is 16), the judge went on to say that she was “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. While we struggle to digest these statements, we also have to remember that he made this assessment of Morales based only on statements she made before her death. He never met her or directly heard her side of the story.

I will say that I, too, believe that chronological age is not necessarily the best indicator of ability to consent. I also believe that the current age of consent laws in this country are a problem because they can criminalize relationships that are actually consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and otherwise healthy. Under some state’s age of consent laws, for example, a typical high school relationship between a 15-year-old sophomore and an 18-year-old senior could be considered illegal, and if things went bad between the teens or their parent, the 18-year-old could even end up in jail.

But this is not at all what happened in the relationship between Morales and Rambold. The age and experience gap is disturbing. He was 35 years her senior—as her mother pointed out, she wasn’t even old enough to drive. Perhaps more importantly, however, he was a teacher and she was a student. There is an inherent power imbalance in this relationship, regardless of the age of the players, that leaves the student open to coercion, manipulation, and exploitation. We will never know exactly what transpired between the two, but there is no way that Morales had as much control over the situation as Rambold did.

The judge was immediately criticized for the sentence, which was handed down on Monday. The following day, he offered an additional justification that just dug a deeper hole. Though he admitted that a 14-year-old can’t give consent, Judge Baugh told the Billings Gazette that he thought the sentence was appropriate because of the nature of the crime. He explained, “I think that 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.”

It’s possible that what the judge was going for in this statement was the idea that statutory rape and other forms of sexual assault are crimes of a different nature. There might a kernel of truth in this idea, again because age of consent laws can criminalize truly consensual relationships. But that is not what happened in this case, and implying that Morales was not “really” raped because she didn’t end up with a black eye or broken rib is offensive.

On Wednesday, Judge Baugh apologized for his remarks. In an apology published in the Gazette, he said he was “not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.” He added, “What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe, and irrelevant to the sentencing.”

Ultraviolet and MoveOn.org are circulating petitions calling for Baugh’s resignation and dismissal, and a protest against him was held outside the courthouse on Thursday.

While the judge’s ultimate fate has yet to be decided, the fate of the others involved in the case is clear: Cherice Morales is dead, and Stacey Rambold will be free by fall.

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  • fiona64

    Even though 14-year-olds cannot legally give consent in Montana (the
    age of consent is 16), the judge went on to say that she was “as much in
    control of the situation” as her teacher.

    I am dumbfounded that a judge would fail to see the (as you so appropriately phrase it) inherent power balance here …

    Gah. One more splendid example of blaming the victim, with a side order of she’s not alive to defend herself.

  • Corey

    Bet the judge goes to church on Sundays too

  • Freethinker01

    Here’s the wicked part of this. If this were a 14-year-old boy scoring with an older teacher (female, of course), we’d be patting him on the back and giving him high-fives for his feats. It would be considered “consensual sex”, not rape…and we’d be arguing for more “sensible” consent laws.
    Only when it’s a man having consensual sex with an underage student do we get upset. We sure do have a long ways to go before we reach true equality among the genders.

    • colleen2

      ” It would be considered “consensual sex”, not rape…and we’d be arguing for more “sensible” consent laws.”

      This is demonstrably untrue as most of the women n the sex offender rolls will testify. Further, those women all spent considerably longer than 31 days in jail for statutory rape. The only folks I know arguing for more ‘sensible’ AOC laws are guys who want to be able to fuck children.

      As far as I am aware there is no push for gender equality when it comes to statutory rape. If every rapist and pedophile in the country were jailed for life I would be pleased.

    • fiona64

      If this were a 14-year-old boy scoring with an older teacher (female,
      of course), we’d be patting him on the back and giving him high-fives
      for his feats. It would be considered “consensual sex”, not rape…and
      we’d be arguing for more “sensible” consent laws.

      Right, which is why Mary Kay Letorneau never spent seven years in jail for statutory rape.

      Oh, wait.

      • Arekushieru

        Yup, she definitely raped that boy. So, I would like to point out that Freethinker, here, seems unable to recognize the very cognitive dissonance he displays in his OWN choice of words. Specifically that the boy Ms. Letourneau raped was ‘scoring with an older teacher (female, of course)’. The word ‘scoring’ implies that the STUDENT initiated first contact. That is NOT what was implied in this case, here, AT ALL. FURTHER, this cognitive dissonance exposes what MRA nitwits ACTUALLY believe are the very real differences between power imbalances when it comes to an older female teacher and younger male student over an older male teacher and a younger female student. Iow, Freethinker’s post actually EMPHASIZES our point, AS per usual. Because the situation he describes is SUPPORTED as a RESULT of the given MRA position that ACTUALLY implies that there is a DECREASED power imbalance when it comes to older women and younger men versus older men and younger women. DERP. But, MRAs STILL believe (erroneously) that women should be blamed for a situation THEY created, and wonder why, with a COMPLETE lack of intelligence, why we call them misogynists…. OI.

  • xuinkrbin

    A link to the Judge’s explanation would probably be very informative.

    • colleen2

      You mean his half-assed, weasely hope I get to keep my job attempt at an apology? That ‘explanation’?

  • bj_survivor

    If ever lynch mobs could be of use, it would be in this case. I wouldn’t shed a tear if either this judge and the perp were lynched by an angry mob of parents. And then we could bring in the shoddy prosecutorial team of the Trayvon Martin shooting and guarantee that the lynchers got off scot-free.

  • fiona64

    He’s one of those MRA nitwits.

  • Annie Horne

    This individual case sounds horrible especially because the girl killed herself so she isn’t here to defend herself and maybe this is part of the reason why she killed herself, but I don’t necessarily agree with the whole “age of consent” thing because I have seen parents abuse it simply because there daughter got pregnant, but they either didn’t care when she was doing it, or ignored the fact she was sexually active till suddenly there’s a kid on the way and its not okay anymore or maybe there isn’t a kid on the way but they didn’t realize there daughter was sexually active so they make a big deal about it when they find out she is and they go after the boy. I have seen underage girls abuse it, like to ruin ex boyfriend’s lives, one of my friends turned in her best friend simply out of JEALOUSY that the guy my friend was dating was dating her friend and not her, and she couldn’t bear to see it so she knew she could go to the cops it would break them up, it almost labeled the guy a sex offender. Young adults are going to have sex regardless of if they are breaking the law or not and it hurts a lot of people many of whom are underage (usually about 15, 16, 17) or just barely of age. And I referred to males getting in trouble instead of females because usually it is the boys who get in trouble, not the girls but I know of a few females who have gotten in trouble too.

    • Arekushieru

      Um, yeah, sure, or maybe this is just more fucked up victim-blaming on YOUR part?

      • Annie Horne

        I am not saying girls don’t get raped and I am NOT saying this girl didn’t shes not here to defend herself which is hard because she was the key witness I think things would play out differently if she was here to defend herself. Its people who abuse these laws like my friend did (years later she says what she did to get back at her friend and her
        friend’s boyfriend was immature and she was young and stupid and regrets
        doing that), that make the whole legal system a mess and probably why the judge went to say that about the victim because my guess is he deals with a lot of cases where people try and use the law to get people in trouble for personal gain. BTW I am not saying the judge is right for saying what he did either. But these laws can be great deterrents to crime and to lock people up who disobey them, they label people sex offenders so you know who to avoid, etc. But they don’t always work and sometimes they actually hurt the victim, its like the laws about dirty pictures where a teenage girl thinks her boyfriend will love her if she takes them and she gets in trouble instead of her boyfriend that shows the whole school (and usually the boyfriend doesn’t get in trouble or as much but she does.) The law was there to PROTECT HER FROM SOME PERVERT TAKING PICTURES OF HER, but she winds up the sex offender because when they wrote the law they never figured teenage girls were going to share inappropriate pictures, just like they probably didn’t figure the age of consent was going to get hormonal teenagers in trouble or they thought it might but not as much as it does, or the benefits outweighed that.

  • Arekushieru

    However, I would like to point out that while some children may be intellectually and mentally more mature than their peers of the same chronological age, our brains are not fully matured (and, no, I do NOT mean to say underdeveloped, because our brains continue to develop over our entire lifespans) until the age of 25. And it is our life experiences and emotional maturity that are what contribute to our ability to consent. So, what I am trying to say is that chronological age should be a determining factor, even though, I, too, believe that it shouldn’t be as STRICTLY applied. After all, that is why I can’t support the decision that was handed down to a 12-year-old boy and 13-year-old. They both, at least relatively, have the same ability to consent. GAH what asinine decisions.