Montana! Again! More Victim Blaming

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

In several earlier blogs, I’ve written about the minimal sentence given to convicted rapist Stacey Rambold. This sentence was overturned by the Montana Supreme Court at the end of April. The case was remanded back to Yellowstone County District Court to a new judge for resentencing for a minimum of two years. At the end of last week, Rambold’s attorney, Jay Lansing, appealed the decision calling for a rehearing in the case. And what was his argument? “It was her fault.” In other words, more victim-blaming.

Attorney Jay Lansing is appealing the MT Supreme Court’s decision to re-sentence Stacey Rambold for raping Cherise Morales, a 14 year old student he taught at the high school. She later died from suicide.

Lansing said in the appeal filed with the Court on May 14:

In the Opinion in this case … the Court held that Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his sentencing decision. Specifically, the Court stated that consideration of any control that C.M. could have had of the situation is directly at odds with the law which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and therefore lacks any control over the situation; and that there was no basis in the law for the District Court’s distinction between C.M.’s chronological age and the District Court’s perception of her maturity.

Mr. Rambold interprets this ruling by the Court to mean that a sentencing court may not consider the victim’s role in the offense, the victim’s level of participation in the offense, or the victim’s actual consent in determining a reasonable sentence for a defendant.

Mr. Rambold contends that such a decision is in direct conflict with [previous decisions] where the Court stated the established rule that a sentencing court may consider any relevant information relating to the nature and circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s character, background, history, and mental and physical condition, and any other information that the court considers to have probative force.

Lansing then goes on to say that his argument “is not ‘victim blaming.’”

I completely disagree with this. Lansing, just like Judge Baugh, minimizes the rape of C.M. He says that Cherise knew her teacher and accepted his advances, and that this isn’t as “bad” as stranger rape. He suggests that the court should consider a victim’s “role, level of participation, or consent” [emphasis added]- in a crime against the victim. This truly flies in the face of the law and absolutely is victim blaming. To compound this upside down view of the law, he then goes on to present two hypothetical situations — one  between a 19 year old and his 14 year old “girlfriend” and a second one dealing with stranger rape.

Lansing then concludes that Rambold and Cherise share the blame for the rape. He seems to say that the circumstances surrounding this rape of a minor to her teacher’s advances isn’t all that bad and therefore no change in the original sentence should be made.

He states:

One point that must be clearly stated and emphasized is that there is a distinction between consideration of C.M.’s role and participation as a defense to the charge and consideration of C.M.’s role and participation in determining a reasonable and appropriate sentence. … C.M.’s role, level of participation, and consent are relevant information relating to the nature and circumstances of the offense and are to be considered in fashioning a reasonable sentence.

In justifying his victim blaming, Lansing uses this truly twisted argument that is nothing but victim blaming. Yes, a court may consider relevant evidence for purposes of determining guilt or sentencing. But then to say that the blame is shared and therefore the rape is, in some sense justifiable, is outrageous and appalling.

Judge Baugh’s original victim-blaming comments were bad enough. Just like Baugh, Lansing uses similar rape myths in his argument to the Court. He first blames the victim (while denying this in the same breath). Then he goes on with his hypothetical relationship and stranger rape examples to imply that this rape was non-violent—thus using the myth of the Nonviolent Rapist and Implied Consent to justify the minimal sentence given to Rambold last summer. Rambold’s lawyer’s attempt to use these myths to somehow justify both the rape and the minimal sentence originally handed down are, IMHO, stupendously horrendous.

In this case, both Judge Baugh and Attorney Lansing use outdated, victim-blaming myths about women and sexual assault in order to justify both their actions and the actions of the defendant. They both represent parts of the legal justice system. If they are representative of the Montana judicial system, our judicial system is failing our communities.

Gender bias in the courts is unacceptable. Whether that is in Montana, where this case is occurring; in Pennsylvania where I live and where the Gerry Sandusky child sexual assaults happened; or anywhere else in the country.

In Montana NOW’s and Pennsylvania NOW’s original complaint to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, we asked that the Court implement a mandatory educational program for the judiciary. We stated in that complaint that we want the Montana Supreme Court to:

Implement a mandatory judicial education program for the judiciary on the fair adjudication of sexual assault cases to help the Montana justice system develop techniques to minimize victim re-traumatization while safeguarding the rights of the defendant. – See more at: http://www.legalmomentum.org/national-judicial-education-program#sthash.hxAEGz8p.dpuf.

I believe that this proposed mandatory educational program should be extended to all of the participants within the legal justice system – judges, lawyers, law enforcement and anyone else within the system that could impact the treatment of victims and survivors of sexual assault. Then and only then will we start addressing this problem of victim blaming. Let’s stop it now.

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