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This heartbreaking news out of Montana makes us believe a little less in the justice system that’s supposed to protect our children, especially our girls. Former high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, age 49, has to serve just 30 days in jail for having sex with one of his 14-year-old students–a student who later committed suicide.

Police learned of the sexual relationship in 2008, and just days before the case went to trial, Cherice committed suicide. She was just a few days shy of her seventeenth birthday. Rambold pled guilty to just one felony charge of sex without consent. According to the Billings Gazette, Chief Deputy County Attorney Rod Souza asked that Rambold serve 20 years in prison because he targeted the troubled Cherice Morales and used his position of power as a teacher to his advantage. But Judge G. Todd Baugh ordered him to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended, and the day he’d already spent in jail was counted toward the sentence.

But perhaps most horrifying is the reasoning behind the sentencing:

Baugh said he listened to recorded statements given by Morales before her death and believes that while she was a troubled youth, she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.

The judge also said Morales was “older than her chronological age.”

It’s absurd to think that just because a girl looks and acts older that her age that she can’t be a victim of rape. XoJane’s Emily McCombs, who herself had relationships with men in their 20s and 30s as a teenager puts it perfectly:

“I was not coerced. I consented to all these sexual encounters in the basest sense of the world. But I was making choices that I wasn’t emotionally equipped to make. Legally, that’s why statutory rape laws exist. Because like an intoxicated person, an underage person is not truly capable of informed consent…

The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity toconsent.  I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period…, I see a child.”

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.

 

Children who parents, teachers and lawmakers need to protect. Since the hearing on Monday, Judge Baugh has since apologized for his remarks, saying he was “not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.” It seems he said exactly what he wanted to–that this girl’s suffering and the loss of her life is worth only a few days in jail.

A petition is now circulating asking Baugh be removed from the bench.

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