A shot from the movie "Irreversible"
Rape is one of the worst things a person can suffer, and in rape, there is no perpetrator but the rapist, hence the term.
This is our opener, because this simple, absolute fact (especially the latter part of it) somehow seems to be considered a debatable one. With this unfathomable “ambiguity” comes the unfortunate truth that society, by and large, has produced and continues to propagate a rape culture.
Recently, a number of rape cases, some ending with the suicide of the victim, has been brought to light, one after another. The cases involved rape, the use of social media for the stigmatization and bullying of the victims, law enforcement mishandling cases and an overall tendency to embrace the perpetrator and shun the victim. Audrie Potts, Rehtaeh Parsons, the Steubenville Case, Amanda Todd (to some degree) are all recent examples of rape succeeded by bullying and protected by rape culture. The case brought forth within this article is yet another trespass in the long line of offenses committed by the rapists’ security net, which includes the law.
Rape Culture / Security Net
“Rape culture” is a general term for environmental tendencies allowing, condoning, tolerating and justifying rape while protecting the rapist instead of the victim/survivor. This creates an instant security net around the rapist, protecting him from the consequences of his actions, often at the expense of the victim’s sanity, life… or even the law itself. This security net, however, is more like a double-edged sword, as while it protects the rapist, it abuses the victim. Common facets of this include: victim-blaming, perpetrator-pitying, condition-justifying and the lawless court / the lawless law enforcement. Let us observe.
First and foremost, there is victim-blaming: a widespread tendency to regard the victims as perpetrators, a mind-numbing confusion of terms evident in this simple sentence. If the victims aren’t perpetrators, then they are considered enablers, encouragers, catalysts – again, perpetrators. The dictionary definition of a victim is “a person who suffers from a destructive action or injurious action” whereas a perpetrator is defined as “a person who perpetrates, or commits, an illegal, criminal, or evil act.” Just in case there is any confusion, a victim is someone who is inflicted injury upon, and a perpetrator is someone who inflicts injury.
Perpetrator-pitying is another aspect. This is when the perpetrator is shown pity and concern, at the expense of the victim. Perpetrator-pitying was a major factor in the Steubenville Case, with several news and media outlets constantly citing the tragedy of the perpetrators’ lives being ruined because of the ongoing proceedings and the inevitable publicity. In general, this act attempts to do the same switch the culture does with the victim and perpetrator: just as victims are made into perpetrators, the perpetrators are made into victims. Except the terms, unfortunately, do not apply when switched. Some argue that the negative publicity and the social stigma of being a rapist is what makes them into victims, but this line of argument completely ignores that the person in question is a criminal, one of the worst kinds.
Condition-justifying is a rather peculiar aspect of this culture. It seeks to find what can vaguely be considered “extenuating circumstances” (e.g. “she was only on the third of vodka”) to justify, or, failing that, lessen the scope of the crime in question. Condition-justifying is a variation on victim-blaming, in that it often places blame on the overall conditions the victim has “created,” leading to her rape. A low-cut dress, half a glass of alcohol too much, being late out at night – these are all common accusations used in victim-blaming, and all conditions that the victim supposedly creates on her own.
The lawless court / the lawless law enforcement is the final aspect of the security net. As it is implied by the name, this aspect involves law enforcement deliberately underperforming, obstructing or denying the enforcement of the law, in favor of the rapist. This can include many things: the police deliberately drawing out the investigation or dragging their feet to reach information regarding the assailants: in the Rehtaeh Parsons case, the internet vigilante group Anonymous took it upon itself to provide the police with the data they took and proceeded to ignore for a considerable amount of time. In the case of the lawless court, which is the precise case in this article, the case makes it (somehow) to court, but the court either refuses to adhere to the letter of the law, or flat out breaks the law itself.
The Cherice Moralez Case
The case began, effectively, in 2007, after Cherice Moralez, 14 year old at the time, was raped by her teacher, Steve Rambold. Rambold would later admit to raping Cherice in his office, in his car, and his home, bringing the number of known instances to three. It is noteworthy that, four years prior (2003), however, Rambold had been warned about his inappropriate behavior with his students by the school faculty, who, for some reason, still kept him on the roster. It took a year for charges to be brought up against Rambold. In 2008, the case was carried to law enforcement and Rambold was arrested.
After bringing charges against Rambold, however, Cherice found herself in the second phase of rape culture: bullying and victim-blaming/shaming. After being constantly harassed by her peers at school for just over a year, Cherice broke. In February 2010, just prior to the case making it to court, she killed herself – by shooting herself on her mother’s bed. Rambold was charged on July 2010, but the prosecution was deferred (postponed) for 38 months, during which time, Rambold was supposed to complete a Sexual Offender Treatment Program (which he didn’t, more below.)
After the trial proceeded, the outcome ended up being a disaster. While the details are in the following section, a brief summary would be: Rambold was sentenced to 30 days in prison (instead of the 20 years demanded by the prosecution and the life sentence imposed by Montana law) and Judge G. Todd Baugh, in charge of the judicial proceedings, revealed himself a rape culture enthusiast by steamrolling over the laws of his own state, and by issuing statements that revealed his inclinations.
The Law Breaking the Law
The first mistake of Judge G. Todd Baugh was to claim that Cherice was “older than her chronological age.” To reiterate for perspective, she was 14 when she was raped and subsequently bullied. The one shifty perspective the rape culture upholds is “she looked/acted older than she was” except looking and/or acting older, does not necessarily make someone older. No matter the supposed level of maturity for someone, say, Cherice’s age, they are still only children. Further, even if that were true, Montana’s age of consent laws, as does the law across most of the globe, does not distinguish between “chronological age” and “actual age.” The law states that any act / assault that takes place involving a victim below the age of 16, it is considered to have occurred “without consent.” Further, the law states, under “Sexual Assault” that “if the victim is less than 16 years old and the offender is 3 or more years older than the victim (…) the offender shall be punished by life imprisonment or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of not less than 4 years, unless the judge makes a written finding that there is good cause to impose a term of less than 4 years.” This passage also repeats under the heading of “Sexual intercourse without consent,” verbatim.
To reiterate, Cherice was 14. Rambold was 54. Under the letter of the law, his sentence should have been 4 to life. It could be argued, for argument’s sake, that the age-old conflict between the letter and spirit of the law would allow some wriggle room, but this isn’t a case of a jaywalking ticket, this is the sexual assault of a minor, and the letter of the law reigns supreme… that is, unless the judge “makes a written finding,” which, Judge Baugh did.
The judge imposed a term of 30 days. He cited two reasons that further this particular case being a textbook definition of rape culture thinking. The first reason was that Rambold “had suffered enough” because, as a result of the drawn-out case, he lost his job, his wife, his teaching license and house. Here, we witness the more frustrating side of a rape culture: the first bout of condition-justifying (“older than her chronological age”) is often succeeded by two things. The first being pity extended to the offender, because, on a very basic level, he broke the law and suffered the consequences. It must be reminded that Cherice Moralez is now dead, she committed suicide. So in essence, claiming Rambold suffered enough for suffering the consequences of illegal conduct would be like claiming John Wayne Gacy had suffered enough because he was exposed as a serial killer and shunned.
So condition-justification, perpetrator-pitying. The third and most horrid facet of the rape culture is victim-blaming.
Rape/sexual assault is a grossly under-reported crime (in 2012, an average of 46% were reported.) Even if it is, out of 100 reports, only 3 ever end up with the attacker spending time in prison, and note that there is no indication of how long. Further, contrary to popular myth, an overwhelming majority of perpetrators (more than 80%) are among the people the victim knows, and/or is close with. In the case of actual reports coming in, the victims are often disbelieved, chided for their attempts to smear their attackers, or outright bullied by law enforcement (“Think about what this’ll do to him. You want to ruin a man’s life?”) Of course, it doesn’t end there. After that, victim blaming begins. This can take many forms, but the most prominent one is suggesting or outright stating that the victim, bluntly put, “asked for it” either by “enticing” their attackers in some way (which should make rape a non-existent crime in countries that do not allow the show of skin in public, which it isn’t) or by blaming the victim for not being able to cope with (what is perceived as) the consequences of their actions.
Judge Baugh participated in victim blaming with regards to his case by saying that Cherice was “in as much control of the situation as Rambold.” It is clear that the law does not recognize such control, as she is below the age of consent. Even if this ridiculous premise was considered for argument’s sake, the suggestion that a 14-year-old girl and a 54-year-old teacher could stand on an even keel is, simply put, ridiculous. The chronological age notwithstanding, this isn’t “Interview with the Vampire” and Cherice wasn’t Claudia, a fully grown woman trapped in a young girl’s body. No matter what degree of control we might try to assign her part in this sordid affair, it will be incremental, so small that it might as well not be there.
Of course, after his monumental sentence of 30 days for the “one-time offender” Steve Rambold, Judge Baugh cemented this case’s firm grounding in rape culture and rape justification. After the trial, he apologized for his earlier statements regarding Cherice’s chronological age and the issue of control by one-upping himself in the following statement: “Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent.” (a direct contradiction with his statement regarding control) “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 forcible beat-up rape.” The message, unless it wasn’t clear already, is that there are different kinds of rape, and some kinds are more acceptable or just simply lower in impact than others. So there are these kinds of rapes and there are those kinds of rapes, and one is horrible, and the other isn’t. Except that this is all pish-posh, because rape is an absolute concept. There isn’t such a thing as “forcible beat-up rape”, “horrible rape”, the house special extra “violent, forcible AND horrible rape.” If we were to bottom line it, we would say a very simple thing: rape is rape. That Judge Baugh thought he was apologizing for his remarks by stating that Rambold’s actions were a lighter and softer, less harmful kind of rape displays clearly the lack of logic behind this culture he, albeit somewhat covertly subscribes to. To attempt to lessen the reality of the perpetrator’s crimes in order to justify a decision that is against the law (as the “good cause” in his “written finding” basically says the girl had control, she was acting older so she was asking for it, and that this was a plushy, soft-pillow kind of rape) is not only unacceptable, it shows how flimsy excuses can become reasons in the hands of a culture that accepts them.
Further, Rambold is not a “one-time offender” as stated by Judge Baugh. It is known that Rambold raped Cherice not once, but three times (at least.) Further, Rambold, in addition to the 30-day sentence, was put on probation for 14 years as a Level 1 sex offender (low risk of re-offense – debatable at best.) Of course, Rambold also had to register for a sex offender treatment program, which he did, only to be kicked out of due to, apparently, unsupervised visits with minors. Prosecution demanded from Judge Baugh in the light of this to sentence Rambold to 20 years, to which the judge, of course, responded by saying Rambold’s infractions weren’t serious enough, because “they (his violations) were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.” It is worth observing here that the same judge that found Rambold’s actions “not horrible rape enough” also found his violations “not jail-worthy enough” because apparently, Judge Baugh thinks every offense might be lighter/less than it actually is. So not only has he protected Rambold, attempted to justify his crimes, create perpetrator-pity and blame the victim, he also protects Rambold from the consequences of breaking the law.
This is a judge we are talking about, a judge that is, with regards to this case, routinely allowing the law to be broken, all the while, through tolerance, also acknowledging and perpetrating rape culture.
…as stated before, Cherice was not the first, the only, or the last. The cases mentioned at the beginning of this article are only the most popular(ized) and most widely publicized examples. Just as most rape crimes go unreported, there is no telling how many more cases are out there, with victims struggling in the vice-grip of a society that approves of their pain, humiliation and degradation.