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:

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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.

Montana! Again! More Victim Blaming

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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.

Seeking Justice for Cherise

In August 2013, Yellowstone County (Billings), Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced ex-teacher Stacey Rambold to thirty days in jail for raping one of his 14-year-old students . Baugh had followed a recommendation from Rambold’s lawyer by giving Rambold a sentence of 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and a one day credit for time served. Even worse, the judge showed gender and racial bias against Cherise Morales—the 14 year old, Hispanic girl who 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.”

Upon hearing about this incident, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, former PA NOW president and current member of the PA NOW Executive Committee contacted Montana NOW President Marian Bradley. After consulting with each other, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW decided to coordinate a state and national action to push back against this egregious behavior and use of rape myths.

We focused on both the unethical behavior of Judge Baugh and on working to overturn the illegal sentence handed down on Rambold.

The Ethics Complaint Against Judge Baugh

First, we focused on a petition to sanction Judge Baugh. The first step was to help get a groundswell of people calling for the Montana Judicial Standards Commission to review and sanction Judge Baugh for his behavior. Working with We are Ultraviolet and Fitzgibbon Media we gathered over 130,000 signatures calling for the state to sanction Judge Baugh. Meanwhile we contacted Legal Momentum (a national women’s advocacy organization that houses the National Judicial Education Program on Gender Bias in the Courts) and Pennsylvania’s Women’s Law Project to assist us in crafting our complaint.

Marian Bradley standing next to the boxes of signed petitions calling for the removal of Judge G. Todd Baugh from the bench.

Marian Bradley, President of Montana NOW delivering the NOW complaint to the MT Judicial Standards Commission on September 24, 2013.

Using these petition signatures, we publicly delivered our complaint on September 24, 2013 against Baugh urging the Montana Judicial Standards Commission and the Montana Supreme Court to

  • Remove Judge Baugh from the bench for his misconduct related to his handling of and speech about the rape case involving the sentencing of Stacey Rambold; and
  • 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.

As a result of this complaint and several others, Judge Baugh acknowledged on December 7, 2013 that he violated one of the three ethics rules we alleged he had violated. He said that he had failed to “promote public confidence in the independence, integrity,and impartiality of the judiciary,” and did not “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” But he refused to acknowledge that  he used racial and gender bias in handing down the sentence and as a result, did not uphold the law. So we submitted a response detailing the rape myths he used in creating the sentence and in not following the law with the minimum, mandatory two-year sentence.

Then Baugh, in an effort to avoid the sanctions he could see coming, announced in January that he would not be seeking reelection in 2014. A couple of weeks after this announcement, the Montana Judicial Standards Commission announced that they were sending a recommendation to the Montana Supreme Court to use their oversight powers to sanction Judge Baugh.

The Amicus Brief

Meanwhile, on December 6, 2013, the Montana Attorney General’s office filed an appeal before the Montana Supreme Court. They are asking the court to remand the case back to the Yellowstone County District Court for sentencing that would follow the state law’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.  They are asking for, at minimum, a four-year sentence.

NOW once again weighed in. Knowing that it is possible for advocacy groups to file “friend of the court” amicus curiae briefs, we contacted two members of our network of women’s legal advocacy organizations—The Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum—to see if there was any interest in pursuing this amicus.  They put us in contact with Legal Voice and the Sexual Violence Law Center. Both of these organizations are based in Seattle, Washington and serve women in Montana.  As a result, all six organizations agreed to file an amicus.Attorney Vanessa Soriano Power and other members of the law firm Stoel Rives LLP took the lead in writing our brief and petitioning the Court to add our brief to their review of this case.

Montana’s Supreme Court rarely accepts amicus briefs, but did in this case. The amicus brief we filed focuses on rape myths and their inappropriate impact in adjudicating and sentencing in sexual-assault cases.  We are asking the court to take the effect of these types of myths into account when making their decision in this case and, upon remand, to assign the case of Stacey Rambold to a new judge for appropriate and legal re-sentencing.

What’s Happening Now?

Both cases were sent to the Montana Supreme Court for review. We heard on April 25 (the 10th anniversary of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington DC that brought out over one million people) that the decisions on what type of sanctioning Judge Baugh will receive and whether or not Stacey Rambold will be re-sentenced is pending.

This morning, the Montana Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Montana v. Rambold case (copy of the opinion can be seen here). The Court listened to the arguments presented by both the Attorney General’s office and by NOW. They overturned (“vacated”) the 30-day sentence and remanded the case back to the Yellowstone County Courts for re-sentencing in line with the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines. In addition, they have ordered the county to assign the case to another judge for Rambold’s re-sentencing.

The last two paragraphs of the opinion indicate that the Court heavily relied on our amicus in ordering the remand:

¶21 On remand for resentencing, we further instruct the court to reassign the case to a different judge to impose sentence. We have considered several factors to decide whether a new judge should be assigned to resentence a defendant in a particular case, among them; whether the original judge would reasonably be expected to have substantial difficulty in putting out of his or her mind previously-expressed views determined to be erroneous, whether reassignment is advisable to preserve the appearance of justice, and whether reassignment would entail waste and duplication out of proportion to any gain in preserving the appearance of fairness. Coleman v. Risley, 203 Mont. 237, 249, 663 P.2d 1154 (1983) 10 (citations omitted). In State v. Smith, 261 Mont. 419, 445-46, 863 P.2d 1000, 1016-17 (1993), we remanded for resentencing to a new judge when the judge’s statement at trial evidenced bias against the defendant. Even where bias did not require reassignment to a new judge, we have reassigned where media coverage and public outrage “have snowballed to create an appearance of impropriety.” Washington v. Montana Mining Properties, 243 Mont. 509, 516, 795 P.2d 460, 464 (1990).

¶22 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. Under these circumstances, we conclude that reassignment to a new judge is necessary to preserve the appearance of fairness and justice in this matter.

Meanwhile the sanctions against Judge Baugh are still pending. This was confirmed in this morning’s opinion announced by the Montana Supreme Court: 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.

We feel strongly that our work on this case shows our commitment to looking out for the women, children and families of our states and our nation. This behavior by our teachers and our judiciary should not and will not be tolerated. Our vigilance will continue.

— blog written by Joanne Tosti-Vasey and Marian Bradley

Women’s Groups File Amicus Brief in Montana v. Rambold

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Stop Violence Against Women NOW

In August 2013, Judge G. Todd Baugh issued a 30-day jail term for one guilty plea by Stacey Rambold for one count of sexual intercourse without consent against a 14-year old minor.  NOW, UltraViolet, and people around the world expressed outrage at this judge’s use of rape myths to minimize the assault and create a sentence that was way below the mandatory minimum for such an offense. Following the initial outrage, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW filed a joint complaint with the Montana Judicial Standards Commission about Judge Baugh’s violation of the state’s judicial Rules of Conduct.  Then last weekend, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW responded to Judge Baugh’s refusal to acknowledge bias and prejudice in his sentencing of Rambold.

Meanwhile the Montana Attorney General’s Office (AG) filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court on December 6 to remand the case back to the Yellowstone County District Court for sentencing that would follow the state law’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.  They are asking for minimally at least a four-year sentence.

After finding out about the AG’s intent to appeal the original jail term, Montana NOW and Pennsylvania NOW looked into the possibility of filing an amicus brief to the court to support the appeal.  We contacted two members of our network of women’s legal advocacy organizations—The Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum—to see if there was any interest in pursuing this amicus.  They were interested and helped put us in contact with Legal Voice and the Sexual Violence Law Center. Both of these organizations are based in Seattle, Washington and serve women in Montana.  As a result, all five organizations agreed to take on this amicus; Attorney Vanessa Soriano Power and other members of the law firm Stoel Rives LLP took the lead in writing our brief.   Thank you all for assisting and working with us on this brief.  We couldn’t have done it without your legal expertise and caring about this miscarriage of justice.

The amicus brief we filed focuses on rape myths and their inappropriate impact in adjudicating and sentencing in sexual-assault cases.  We are asking the court to take the effect of these types of myths into account when making their decision in this case and, upon remand, to assign the case to a new judge for sentencing.

We state in this brief that rape myths are a form of gender bias that destroys the integrity of the judicial process and contravenes Montana law. The three myths we focus on are:

  1. Blaming the Victim
  2. The Myth of the Nonviolent Rapist and Implied Consent
  3. The Lolita Effect and Power Dynamics in Sexual Assaults

After presenting the background on these myths, we then link them to what we believe happened in this case based on the statements made by Judge Baugh and his minimal sentencing of Rambold.  We show that the District Court’s erroneous reliance on these rape myths pose a threat to sexual assault survivors’ confidence in  the judicial system. We then request that the Supreme Court use their supervisory authority to not only remand the case back to the District Court, but also to assign a new judge for the new sentencing.

Here’s the full brief for your perusal.  It was sent via overnight mail on December 12, 2013 to all parties involved in this case for delivery by noon MST today, Friday, December 13, 2013.

Montana Amici Curiae Brief final 12-12-13.pdf