Last Thursday, September 26, Mr. Stacy Rambold was released from Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge after serving a 30-day sentence. That may sound like just punishment for shoplifting or vandalism—but for rape?
Rambold, a former schoolteacher, was convicted of the 2007 statutory rape of 14-year-old student Cherice Moralez. Just before her 17th birthday, Moralez—who had been bullied and shunned by other students—committed suicide. The tragic death of the victim contributed to delays in the prosecution of the case, which was originally filed in 2008.
Rambold pled guilty to a count of rape in 2010 and was sentenced to a sex-offender treatment program. However, he was kicked out of the program after three years for “unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and for not disclosing that he was in a sexual relationship,” and thus came up for resentencing.
The controversial new 30-day sentence, handed down by District Judge G. Todd Baugh in late August, has sparked anger from many, including the family of the victim. If the short sentence wasn’t enough, Judge Baugh commented that the now-deceased Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.” National outrage ensued.
Hundreds gathered to protest in late August outside the offices of the Montana judge, and an online petition for his removal from the bench began circulating. Although Baugh made some feeble attempts at an apology (while simultaneously defending his decision), many have expressed concern that his lenient sentencing and inappropriate comments will discourage future rape victims from coming forward.
Two days before Rambold’s release, the National Organization for Women (NOW) delivered a misconduct complaint to Montana’s Judicial Standards Commission against Baugh, along with 144,000 signatures, asking that he be removed from the bench.
Baugh’s insinuation that Moralez was as much in control of the situation as a nearly 50-year-old sexual predator is preposterous. His already inappropriate comments were made all the more unpalatable by the fact that the victim isn’t alive to defend herself, and that even if she had wanted a sexual relationship with a much-older man it was illegal under Montana law. From Steubenville to New Delhi to Montana, actions of those like Judge Baugh force women to live in fear of not just sexual assault, but also the blaming, moralizing and finger-pointing that follows.
While the people of Montana, NOW and The Society For Thinking Before You Open Your Big Chauvinistic Mouth (OK, I made up that last one) continue to call for Judge Baugh’s resignation, prosecutors have challenged the 30-day sentence as illegal, since the state’s mandatory minimum is two years. Rambold is expected to remain free while an appeal from the Montana Attorney General is pending at the state Supreme Court.
Melissa McGlensey recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and Spanish with a minor in creative writing; she is currently interning at Ms.