The Rape Myth Problem Within the Judicial System

You probably have heard this before:
“She asked for it.” “She didn’t say no.” “She really meant ‘yes’ when she said ‘no.’” “She looks older than her chronological age.” “She [a minor] was as much in control of the situation as the defendant [her teacher when he raped her].” “Well, you know, this wasn’t this forcible, beat-up type rape.” “Even though she was drunk, she consented and knew what she was doing.” “Well boys will be boys; what else would you expect?” “She just ‘cried’ rape.” “It didn’t happen. She’s lying ‘cause she wants revenge.” “She could have prevented it if she… had only tried hard enough… had fought back more… etc.” These are all rape myth statements that have been heard in the courtroom as well as out in the public arena.
The flowing article was written by me for Pennsylvania NOW on their website.
This article gives an overview of problems in the judicial system when judges and others rely on this form of gender bias in their courtroom. Pennsylvania NOW posted the original of this article on August 31 and Central Oregon Coast NOW reblogged it. Thanks everyone for spreading the word about this problem and showing others what can be done to push back on this form of misogyny in the judiciary.

NOW Public Censure Statement re: G. Todd Baugh

Today at 1:00 p.m. MDT, the Montana Supreme Court held G. Todd Baugh’s public censure hearing in Helena Montana. Here’s a video of the entire hearing, courtesy of the Billings Gazette.

 

We were one of the complainants who filed a Judicial Conduct complaint against Baugh last fall. We were in court  today to tell Baugh, the Supreme Court, and the country why we filed the complaint and what we thought of Baugh’s actions as a sitting judge who was supposed to fairly mete out justice for all.

Unfortunately Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW were not allowed to speak about our concerns before the Court. We had expected to deliver these comments publicly. Since we were unable to speak them, we sent our statement directly to Baugh.  We have also let the press know that this statement is available on this blog.

The following is our official statement:

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Mr. Baugh:

We are Marian Bradley and Joanne Tosti-Vasey, representing, respectively Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW, state chapters of the National Organization for Women. We are one of the eight sets of complainants that filed an ethics violation complaint against you, Mr. Baugh.  We believe you mishandled this rape case and as a result you impugned the judiciary.  Your statements blaming the victim and your failure to follow state law in sentencing Stacey Rambold were outrageous and unconscionable.

We filed this complaint on behalf of men, women, and children in Montana as well as men, women, and children across the country.  We believe that it is long past time for Montana’s authorities to protect the right-thinking citizens of and visitors to Montana from sexual predators rather than freeing those predators so that they can rape again.

We represent the more than 250,000 people around the world who called for your resignation or removal and the 350 sexual assault survivors who signed a letter calling for your removal. When we filed our complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission on September 24, we included copies of the petitioners’ names, the sexual assault survivor letter and copies of two news articles condemning your actions.

On Monday, August 26, 2013, you sentenced confessed child rapist Stacey Rambold to only 31 days in jail for that offense.  You justified that slap-on-the-wrist sentence by commenting, incredibly, that the 14-year-old child victim – two years under the legal age of consent – was “as much in control” of the rape as her 49-year-old teacher because, according to you, she was “older than her chronological age.” You then attempted to justify this sentence by telling the press that this rape “was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies.”

Mr. Baugh, your victim-blaming, rape-trivializing, rapist-protecting comments and actions come less than a year after the United States Department of Justice was called in to address civil rights violations and rape victim-blaming by the University of Montana, Missoula County and Missoula City authorities over many years.

Our complaint raised three ethical issues that we believed you violated.  The issues we raised were:

That you did NOT act at all times in a manner that promoted public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and that you did not avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety (Rule 1.2);

That you did NOT uphold and apply the law, nor did you perform all duties of your judicial office fairly and impartially (Rule 2.2); and

That you in the performance of your judicial duties, by your words as well as your conduct, showed manifest bias or prejudice against the victim based upon her race, sex, gender, age, and socioeconomic status (Rule 2.3).

The Judicial Standards Commission found that you violated the ethical issue of impropriety. The Montana Supreme Court in overturning your 31-day sentence of Rambold on April 30 essentially found that you violated the second ethical issue by failing to uphold and apply the law. And when the Montana Supreme Court overturned this sentence, they ordered this case to be reassigned to a new judge because your statement at trial evidenced bias against the victim.  That essentially means you also violated our third complaint of showing bias against the victim – a young, Hispanic, lower-income girl.

You used three different rape myths to justify your actions. By doing so, you used a form of gender bias that destroyed the integrity of the judicial process and contravened Montana law. Rape myths are forms of gender bias that have no place in a justice system that strives to provide an impartial forum for all participants.  As the Honorable Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in 1994, “When people perceive gender bias in a legal system, whether they suffer from it or not, they lose respect for that system, as well as for the law.”

What did you do?  You blamed the victim for the rape. You invoked the belief that this wasn’t “real” rape because it did not involve physical violence. And you invoked the myth of girl provocateur, also known as the Lolita Effect, to deny the power and control a teacher has over his student.

You relied on these rape myths to impose your sentence against Rambold. You trivialized the act of rape by stating that the crime was not a “forcible, beat-up rape.” By doing so you downplayed the fact that a teacher took advantage of and sexually assaulted a girl under his power and control. You blamed the victim by claiming she had control over the rape.

This young girl, Cherice Moralez, experienced such psychological and emotional damage that she ultimately died by suicide even before the case came to trial.  Your statements about the victim being as much in control of the situation as Rambold and then giving a slap-on-the-wrist sentence to Rambold is insupportable as a matter of fact and law, given her age and vulnerability.

Children and adolescents are vulnerable to coercion and social pressure by adults and figures of power. Your use of these rape myths diminished and made invisible a young vulnerable girl. Your statements result in a chilling effect on other victims of sexual assault. It also places a chilling effect on the public and others within the judicial system. If we are unable to trust and rely on the justice system to properly weigh the relevant factors in addressing sexual assaults, we all lose confidence in the integrity of the judicial process.

We would have preferred that the Montana Judicial Standards Commission and the Montana Supreme Court had immediately removed you from the bench so that you could no longer impugn the integrity of the court and return the court in Yellowstone County to a full sense of fairness for women, children, and other victims of domestic and sexual violence.  Instead they chose to give you a similar 31-day “sentence” that you gave to Stacey Rambold.  In his case, it was 31 days in jail with one day suspended; in your case it’s 31 days without pay. We accept that decision. However we are concerned that as long as you remain seated on the bench that the public in Montana, around the country and throughout the world will continue to question the fairness and integrity of the judicial system in Montana.

We therefore suggest that not only do you fully accept today’s censure and the suspension, but that you also apologize for your actions to Cherice’s mother and all victims of sexual and domestic violence and that you immediately either step down or recuse yourself from all future cases handed to you. Enough is enough. Your actions in our opinion require these responses from you.

Censure and Suspension of Judge Baugh

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

The Montana Supreme Court has just handed down their decision on the ethics complaints filed against Judge G. Todd Baugh in his mishandling of the rape case against Stacey Rambold. This is the case where Judge Baugh sentenced ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to thirty days in jail for raping one of his 14-year-old students.

In explaining this slap-on-the-wrist sentence, Baugh used several rape myths that showed gender and racial bias against Cherise Morales—the 14 year old, Hispanic girl whom Rambold raped. During the sentencing hearing, Baugh stated that the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist and that she was “older than her chronological age.” There were a total of eight verified complaints submitted to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission as a result of Judge Baugh’s actions; one of these complaints was filed by Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW (see our complaint here and blog summarizing our complaint here).

On April 30, the Montana Supreme Court vacated Rambold’s minimal sentence, largely based on the amicus brief we filed with the court. They remanded the Rambold case back to Yellowstone County District Court. Yesterday they denied Rambold’s request to reconsider. The new sentence will be imposed by the District Court by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the Court has now followed up on their intent to censure Judge Baugh. Their intent to censure was originally announced in the April 30 decision in the Rambold case. In that opinion, the Court said of Baugh’s behavior:

In the present case, Judge Baugh’s statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice. The idea that C.M. could have “control” 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 whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity. Judge Baugh’s comments have given rise to several complaints before the Judicial Standards Commission, which has recommended disciplinary action by this Court. Those complaints will be addressed in a separate proceeding.

In their 4-1 decision today censuring Baugh, the Court indicated that Judge Baugh violated the “Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary” canon.

Here’s a copy of the full decision. Judicial Standards Commission v Judge G Todd Baugh decision 6-4-2014

And here’s an excerpt from that decision:

Violation of Rule 1.2: Promoting public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and avoiding impropriety or the appearance of impropriety

Baugh’s comments in open court in this case disregarded longstanding Montana law that a person under the age of 16 is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. His assertion that the victim was “older than her chronological age” is inconsistent with Montana law categorizing child victims of sexual offenses based on their chronological age     alone, rather than on subjective perceptions of physical maturity and situational control. In addition, Judge Baugh’s later attempt to retract his sentence and rationale was inconsistent with Montana law. Finally, Judge Baugh made additional inappropriate public statements attempting to justify his actions. Through his unlawful sentence, inappropriate rationale, and subsequent public comments, Judge Baugh has eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety, therefore violating the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct….

There is no place in the Montana judiciary for perpetuating the stereotype that women and girls are responsible for sexual crimes committed against them [emphasis added].

Censure and Suspension

The Court has given Judge Baugh until June 19 to respond to their proposed suspension since he only agreed to public censure on violating this rule. If he does not withdraw his consent to discipline by that date, he will be required to appear before the Montana Supreme Court at 9:30 am on Monday July 1, 2014 for the delivery of public censure by the Court. Then on December 1, 2014, he will be given a 31-day suspension without pay from the bench, thus losing the last month’s pay of his salary before he retires. If he does withdraw his consent for censure, the case will be returned to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission for a formal proceeding.

I suspect that Judge Baugh will accept the censure and suspension. Rumor has it that Judge Baugh is considering stepping down from the bench on July 1 due to the general belief that he cannot fairly rule from the bench because of the public censure. If true, the only effect of the 31-day suspension will be a loss of one month’s salary based on his earlier announcement that he would retire from the bench on December 31.

And as a final food for thought… this 31-day suspension / “sentence” seems to me to be very similar to the 31-day sentence imposed by Judge Baugh on Stacey Rambold for raping a 14-year old. Did the Court have this in mind when they decided on the length of the suspension? Is this Tit for Tat for his use of rape myths? Who knows?