This Is Rape Culture: 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor Kills Herself, Rapist Gets 30 Entire Days In Jail

Feature Image via cnn.com

A Montana high-school teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, convicted of raping a 14-year student, will be serving a total of 30 days as his sentence. Hundreds of people are expected to protest this sentence at the courthouse today. The judge explained his “logic” in sentencing Rambold to such a short time: he felt that the student “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. Right.

The case started in 2008, when Rambold was a teacher and Cherice Morales was a 14-year-old student at the same high school. Morales’ mother, Auliea Hanlon, has accused Rambold of “pre-sexual grooming” with the intent of a sexual relationship. The girl eventually reported to a counselor at her church that she’d been sexually assaulted. Her mother pressed charges soon after; Rambold was put on paid leave, and eventually resigned.

In February 2010, as the court case continued, Morales committed suicide. “As a result of the sexual assault and its aftermath, (the teen) experienced severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment and fell into irreversible depression that tragically led to her taking her own life on February 6, 2010,” said a complaint filed by Morales’ mother against Rambold.

After Morales died, Rambold was put on a “deferred prosecution agreement”: if he agreed to certain stipulations, including having no contact with minors, he could avoid imprisonment. Rambold pled guilty to one out of the three felony rape charges. However, the case was re-opened in 2012 when the state found out that he had broken some of his requirements. He was dropped from the deferred prosecution plan, and the case was re-opened. His trial ended Monday with a 15-year prison sentence, though all of that time except one month was suspended. Judge Baugh defended his decision by saying that Rambold had already suffered enough (he lost his career and marriage) and that his infractions weren’t serious enough to warrant jail time.

Stacey Rambold. via  nydailynews.com

Stacey Rambold. via
nydailynews.com

At the end of the trial on Wednesday, Judge Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years but decided that he was at low risk of re-offending and suspended all but one month of that sentence.

Baugh also later apologized for his remarks: “I made some references to the victim’s age and control,” he told CNN affiliate KTVQ. “I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say at that point, but it didn’t come out correct. What I said was demeaning to all women, not what I believe in and irrelevant to the sentencing.”

Digging himself in a little deeper, Judge Baugh added in his apology statement: “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape… It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape.”

Judge Baugh apologizing for his remarks on the Rambold case. via washingtonpost.com

Judge Baugh apologizing for his remarks on the Rambold case. via washingtonpost.com

It’s horrifying to watch Judge Baugh has continued to minimize the rapes even after being confronted with the inappropriateness of his statements. It’s one of the most central tenets of rape culture that if the rape didn’t involve violence, if it wasn’t a stranger in some back alley with a knife, then it could not have been as significant — couldn’t have really been rape. But the majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows and may even trust, which is traumatic in its own way. Everybody in a position of power in this situation did wrong by Cherice Morales.

— but the ramifications for the victim aren’t any less intense because of that. And worst of all is that a judge, someone in a position of moral authority, is saying this. To what extent does this kind of victim-blaming, assault-minimizing attitude affect his other decisions as well?

Granted, statutory rape laws are sometimes sticky; many states have a number of provisions to make the laws more lenient. Some lawmakers create legal exceptions with the belief in mind that some differences in age don’t actually represent a difference in power. But this case is cut-and-dried exactly what statutory rape laws were created to protect against: not only was Rambold significantly older than Morales and not only was Morales very young, but he also was a teacher at her school. It was a double power imbalance, and with that kind of situation, whether or not Judge Baugh personally feels she seemed “older than her chronological age” is completely irrelevant.

Even though it’s about a different statutory rape case, I like what Heather Price-Wright at Policymic.com wrote about statutory rape:

Statutory rape laws are absolutely necessary and exist to protect victims in just these kinds of situations — cases in which there is a major imbalance of power, and in which so-called willingness does not change the fact that the victim has been violated, physically and emotionally, by people who should have known better, and who are in fact legally responsible for knowing better.

Sadly, this is not the first and certainly not the last time something like this will happen. In the high school world, issues of sexuality, attraction, self-worth and personal agency are notoriously murky as it is, and it makes teenagers a vulnerable population. Failing to provide adequate sexual education which focuses on consent rather than abstinence-only serves to expand the power imbalance between teenagers and the adults charged with taking care of them. And because we live in rape culture, it’s also certain that many adults who themselves harbor problematic concepts of what constitutes consent are the very same adults working as judges and serving on juries.

How would Morales’ experience have changed if we, as a public, had been able to see her situation for what it was – a rape – and not resorted to victim-blaming and minimizing? In this case, at least, we’ll never get a chance to find out.

Vivian has written 15 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. If the stories I have heard are correct, his fellow inmates will dole out their own sentencing on him. Is it enough? Hell, no as he should be serving at least 30 years and fed expired meat, just for the anguish he cause the Morales family, and that be on top the 15 years for rape.

      • I’m sorry if it came off that way, but I wasn’t implying or even thinking about prison rape at all. My understanding is that in prison that rapist, get treated poorly, i.e. get spit on, called names, ignored, and even attacked by fellow inmates(know a guy who did time from trafficking and this is what he explained occurs). Again, I am sorry I wasn’t clear.

      • I agree with Al, while it is easy to assume that’s what they meant, I believe the usual treatment for child molesters (which is how this cretin will probably be viewed)is a great deal more violent or focused. Can’t say I am upset with this idea though.

  2. “The judge explained his “logic” in sentencing Rambold to such a short time: he felt that the student “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. Right.”

    What. the. fuck.

    There is so much wrong here, there’s no beginning.

  3. I don’t know anything else about this case, but given the strong chance Cherice Morales, taking only her name, was not white, it gives the whole thing a really disturbing racist smell, especially the ‘looking older’ (read: more sexualized) part.

    • I’ve had that thought since I heard about the case as well; I wish I knew more, or that race was something that people talked about here, because if Morales was a young woman of colour then I’d bet my left arm that the sentencing had everything to do with assumptions about race and sexuality, rather than the violence that this girl faced.

  4. “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape… It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape.”

    Wtf?? Ugh.

    • Ugh indeed.

      Although I do take issue with a phrase in the article, as well, about violence: “It’s one of the most central tenets of rape culture that if the rape didn’t involve violence, if it wasn’t a stranger in some back alley with a knife, then it could not have been as significant — couldn’t have really been rape.”

      I think we need to seriously rethink how we define violence. All rape is, by nature, violent – even if it doesn’t involve physical injury, and even if it does not look like violence to somebody who is not experiencing it. Whether the force involved is obvious or subtle, physical or psychological, rape is still a violent crime.

      • You’re absolutely right – thanks for pointing that out. The impulse to reduce “violence” to only physical violence excludes other types – structural, or psychological, like you mentioned. It’s a dangerous and reductive assumption to make. A more accurate way to phrase the idea I was getting across would be to replace the world “violence” in that phrase with “physical violence.”

  5. An excellent post and much needed coverage of this disgusting story. These kinds of questions about statutory rape laws are an interesting issue when it comes to rape culture and I can’t help but think of the representations of breaking these laws in popular teen shows like ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.
    If you’r unfamiliar one of the primary charaters is in a steamy romance with her young, but adult, teacher. Does that feed into this rape culture idea? Does fetishizing age in terms of sexuality have something to do with the organizing of rape culture? Just some questions you’ve made me feel the need to ask with this piece. Well done Vivian.

  6. Fuck that judge. Really? It’s terrible the rapist lost his job as a teacher? Cause that’s just basic common sense, if there’s one job someone who has plead guilty to statutory rape shouldn’t have, it’s high school teacher. Also, not so terrible that he lost his wife either, why the fuck would she want to stay married to a guy who raped a student?

  7. “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape… It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape.”
    So basically this judge saying that there’s two kinds of rape the “kind of horrible” one and the “really horrible” one. Absolutely appalling, there really is no justice!

  8. There is so much, besides the obvious injustice, that disturbs me about this story.
    Firstly, being offered a deferred prosecution agreement that stipulated no contact with minors, he pled guilty to one felony rape charge, he then went on to breach the conditions of his dpa (in this country that would be seen as an additional offence) he was further sentenced to a 15 yr prison sentence (albeit deferred, it is still representative of the severity of his crime) and then to state that he was at LOW RISK OF RE-OFFENDING? sorry, am I missing something here? didn’t he already re-offend and as such was returned to court? Also, there is no such thing as low risk when it comes to sex offences. It is a specified offence in nearly every western country I can think of.

    Way to keep prison population down, even if it’s at the risk of public safety.
    The sad truth is, that he will likely breach his community sentence.

    Secondly, that judge… wtf. I have no words.

  9. I’m just so, so sad and enraged that stories like this keep popping up. And I am seeing NO coverage on it in the news, except spaces like this and tumblr. I feel so bad for this girl, and now her family.

  10. I saw this on cnn earlier in the week, and it made me so sick. I just don’t understand how the judge could have thought either of those comments sounded right.

    I just, I feel so bad when I read stories like this.

  11. Ugh. This is sick. I almost wish somebody would rape that judge, and then talk about how, “well, he was stronger than he looked, and he had some control over the situation.” How, “The rape was like, a violent beating or anything, so it’s okay.” Except, I wouldn’t want anybody to go through that, no matter who they are. He’s still a sick bastard though.

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