01 September 2013

Age of Non-Consent

Did you read the story this week about the high school teacher in Montana who received only a 30-day sentence in jail after being convicted of having sex with a then 14-year old student? 

Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced the teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, who is now 54, to 15 years, but suspended all but 31 days of it, and took away the one day Rambold had already spent in jail.  And, oh, the student he raped? Cherice Morales killed herself in 2010. Without going into tall the details of the case, previous to this week’s sentencing, Rambold had been thrown out the sex offender treatment program he was mandated to attend. He was kicked out when it was discovered that he was having unsupervised visits with minors and that he had not told counselors that he was sexually active with an adult woman, according to the Billings Gazette.

In his ruling, Baugh declared that Morales was “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher, who was 35 years old than her at the time of statutory rape.  Baugh also declared that Morales was “older than her chronological age.”  The judge also felt that Rambold had been through enough since he’d lost his job, his marriage and his home after he got caught.

Does your stomach hurt yet?  I don’t care if she acted like she was 40, the fact remains that Morales was 14 and to conclude that she was “as much in control of the situation” as an adult —an adult who was in a position of power of her— is reason for dismissal from the bench. Moveon.org has started a petition calling for his removal from the bench.

I remember what it was like to be a 14-year old girl. You think you’re way more grown up than you are and male attention feels like something you can handle. I look back and recall being in situations that could have ended very badly and I’m very lucky that they didn’t. But it wasn’t until I got much older—and was an adult and truly understood how young 14  is— that I was able to see that I was in no way mature enough to make decisions that I thought I could capably handle. 
This was thankfully not my experience , but I could relate to much of the thinking as  I read this brave essay on XOJane.com from an adult named Emily looking back at her 14-year old self, titled “The Myth of the Teenage Temptress: Or Why A Young Girl Can Not Consent To Sex With An Adult Man. Emily, who was neglected at home and not popular at school, began sleeping with much older men when she was 13 and she wrote her essay this week after the Rambold ruling. Around the time she was 25, she began to understand that the men had been predators and that they were wrong for sleeping with her. But when she was younger, she was flattered by their attention. 

She writes, in a paragraph that rang especially true in light of the Morales/Rambold: “Because I was a child, I was missing large pieces of the perspective required to understand adult situations. Children can be sexual. Children can pursue. Girl children in particular may have already learned how to manipulate and bargain with their sexuality at a very young age. They are still children. Like all children, they test boundaries, boundaries that adults must set and maintain.”

There wasn’t an internet when I was 14, there wasn’t MTV, there weren’t female singers rubbing up against male singers old enough to be their fathers. I’m not blaming any of these, other than to say there are a lot more messages that sexualize young girls that I didn’t have to deal with and it was confusing enough for me as I was dealing transitioning from adolescent to young adulthood. 

Today’s $10 goes to YWCA Billings. It runs programs that assist victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as runs an employment and training center. Sounds like maybe Baugh could learn something from volunteering there. 

Sept. 1: YWCA Billings

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