Judge G. Todd Baugh who has been re-elected to his position four times since he was first elected District Court judge in 1984, is now facing the wrath of Billings residents who are outraged with his decision to sentence a teacher who who was convicted of three counts of raping a 14-year old student to just thirty days of actual jail time. On Monday, Judge Baugh sentenced 54 year-old Stacey Rambold to fifteen years in prison but suspended all but one month of the sentence, for raping his student Cherice “Cherry” Morales. The girl has since committed suicide, and her mother contends that being a victim of rape likely contributed to her suicide.
In the wake of the verdict Judge Baugh drew particular ire for his comments that Morales was “older than her chronological age” and that she was in as much control of the situation as her assailant. He has since apologized for those remarks, but still defends his decision to let the rapist off lightly, as if there can be mitigating factors in the rape of a 14-year old girl by a teacher in a position of authority.
On Thursday an estimated crowd of four hundred protesters assembled on the lawn of the Yellowstone County Court House in Billings to call for the judge’s resignation and a judicial review of the case. The protest was organized by area residents Sheena Rice and Kate Olp. Morales’ mother, Auliea Hanlon, was in attendance as well. Rice spoke, noting that the judge’s handling of the case ”really points to a larger problem of victim blaming in rape cases across the country,” and added “it’s time we as a community take a stand against victim blaming.”
Thankfully, the protests may spark a review of the sentence and they have certainly put the judge under scrutiny for his tendency to pity pedophiles and rapists. Judge Baugh’s misogynistic blame the victim mentality has become all too familiar. Thankfully, his decision and the protests that have come about because of it, may open up a new dialogue about statutory rape and the responsibility of adult men to say that sex with an underage girl is always rape and that there can be no set of circumstances that justify or mitigate such a blatant abuse of power, trust and decency as to rape a girl under the age of consent.
As for Judge Baugh, this is not the first time he has granted a suspended sentence to a middle-aged man having sex with an underage girl. in 1998, he suspended the entire 15 year sentence for Gary Gene Schaak for committing incest. We do not know if the victim looked older than her “chronological age” but we can only speculate about Judge Baugh’s reasoning in that case. How many other cases do we still not know about?
Wherever rape occurs and wherever excuses are made for rapists, the decent citizens of each community have a responsibility to stand up as a unified voice and say that rape is not acceptable under any circumstances. Judge Baugh’s decision has awakened the conscience of his community, and it has sparked citizen outrage around the world. His decision to pity the rapist is all too familiar, but fortunately it offers a teachable moment for activists and concerned citizens to discuss statutory rape and the issues that surround it.
Yesterday many residents of Billings Montana stood up and rejected the rape culture that has become all too familiar in our communities. Let us hope that in doing so they have sent a message to judges in other communities as well that rape is never excusable. Let the message be that judges who pity and coddle rapists, because it is not a “beat them up” Hollywood movie kind of rape or because the young girl was supposedly mature for her age, will face the righteous anger of their constituents. In addition, men should get the message loud and clear that it is their responsibility to say “no” to sex with a fourteen year-old girl, not the girl’s responsibility to say “no” to a middle-aged male authority figure. Then let us heal the wounds for victims everywhere and honor the memory of Cherice Morales, by saying “never again”. Not in Billings. Not in Montana. Not in the United States. Not anywhere.