Last year, the Montana Supreme Court ordered a one-month suspension of District Judge G. Todd Baugh “for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them,” as reported in the LA Times. In this victory for victims’ rights, the Court emphasized “[t]here is no place in the Montana judiciary” for such stereotypes, and that Judge Baugh had “eroded public confidence in the judiciary.” The suspension, a penalty rarely imposed by courts, resulted from Judge Baugh’s comments placing blame on a 14-year old student for being raped by her 47-year old high school teacher.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh sat behind the bench and looked down at the man— teacher Stacey Rambold—convicted of raping his 14-year old student. Tragically, this young victim killed herself shortly before the trial, but prosecutors diligently sought and achieved Rambold’s conviction. He described the victim as a “troubled youth, but a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as [Rambold] . . . .”Judge Baugh also stated this child was “older than her chronological age.” Those prosecutors asked for a twenty-year prison sentence. Instead, Bough sentenced this rapist to 31-days in jail.
After a fury of public protest in response to Judge Baugh’s inappropriate—indeed, archaic—comments, he responded to reporters with still less empathy for the victim, pointing out that her assault “wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.” In addition to Judge Baugh’s suspension, he was publicly scolded by the court. The court also ordered a new judge to re-sentence Rambold.
The Montana Supreme Court should be lauded for having the judicial courage to stand up for the 14-year old child raped by her teacher when Judge Baugh would not. Still, this case speaks to a larger truth: Victims of sexual abuse and assault are never at fault.
Shining a Light on the Perpetrators—
Cases such as that of Judge Baugh reflect the inevitable result of a culture that permits powerful individuals and institutions to perpetuate the stereotype that victims bear some responsibility for the sexual crimes against them. This culture also emerges in our responses to sexual violence. As a society, we expect children to come forward and tell parents or the police about the sexual crimes against them.
We institute bans at colleges that keep women from participating in social activities. We ask what the victim was doing or wearing before she was assaulted. We hesitate to believe victims’ stories until we see a video of the violence on the news. These responses to sexual violence tell victims that they cannot rely on us as a society to protect them—and we must do better.
We must shine a light on sexual violence and reshape our own values and beliefs to stand up for victims—and stand against perpetrators of sexual violence and the institutions that protect them. A victim’s age, clothing, behavior, and occupation should have no bearing on our response to sexual violence. Our response must always be the same: It is not the victim’s fault. It is never the victim’s fault.
The Montana Supreme Court shined a light on Judge Baugh for blaming the child victim for the sexual abuse she endured. Let us hope that cases such as this will serve as a beacon to all institutions that have the power to protect victims and instead place blame on perpetrators and those who protect them—the ones truly responsible for sexual violence.
Audie Cornish, UVA Sororities Push To Host Their Own Parties, NPR (Jan. 23, 2015), available at http://www.npr.org/2015/01/23/379419898/uva-sororities-push-to-host-their-own-parties
Paresh Dave, Montana judge to be suspended after blaming sex-assault victim, LA Times (Jun. 4, 2014), available at http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-montana-judge-suspension-20140604-story.html
Amanda Taub, The sexual threats against Emma Watson are an attack on every woman, Vox (Sept. 23, 2014), available at http://www.vox.com/2014/9/23/6832243/the-sexual-threats-against-emma-watson-are-an-attack-on-women