Another Case in the Annals of Injustice: An Open Letter to a Montana Judge

10/29/2013

Dear Mr. Baugh,

Usually I try to stay away from sensational cases (because they’re too upsetting) but the Cherice Moralez rape case was just too egregious to ignore. Although I realize that justice is not blind and people who work in the legal arena bring with them their own human failings, your perspective and rulings on this case have been truly awful. As such, although I understand that you’re a judge and probably should be addressed as such but when you act as terribly as you have in the Moralez rape case, I just cannot find it within myself to offer you an honorific title. So Mr. Baugh it will remain.

What with the well-deserved furor your ruling and comments provoked, I’m certain you now are aware that what you did and said rape, injustice
about the Moralez case was horrible. I heard that you apologized and admitted that your comments were demeaning to women (well, duh!) but that just isn’t good enough. Not even close. Since it is clear that you need to be educated about rape, as a psychologist who deals with it all too frequently in my practice, I am happy to oblige.

The first thing you should know is that the three month long sexual relationship in 2007 between 14 year old Cherice Moralez and 49 year old Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Rambold is, sadly, an all too common occurrence. Youth is vulnerable and there are plenty of adults like Mr. Rambold who are willing to exploit that vulnerability for their own gain.

Perhaps you do not remember what being a young teenager is like but let me assure you that it hasn’t changed: it is still extremely difficult. Adolescents try hard to be adult even though they are still childish in their thoughts and emotions. Their brains are still developing, so they are impulsive and demonstrate poor decision-making. Their feelings are intense and their thoughts run along black and white lines; there is little gray in their world. If you add in puberty, hormones and a blossoming sexual identity, you have someone who thinks they know everything while still being confused as to what they should be doing. That is why adolescents are not legally able to give informed consent.

If you recall what it was like for you at 14, you may realize that you were in strong need of guidance, not manipulation. Yet manipulation is exactly what Mr. Rambold gave to Ms. Moralez. Instead of offering her the kindly mentorship she needed, he exploited her. If nothing else persuaded him (not his marriage or the ethics of his profession), the 35 years of living he had on Ms. Moralez should have given him pause about fulfilling his own wants rather than tending to her educational and emotional needs like he was legally and morally required to do. But they didn’t. Given that Mr. Rambold was forced to resign, surrender his teaching certificate and was charged with three counts of rape, clearly other people thought he was wrong. As someone with decades of experience in dealing with the law, I am surprised that you did not include yourself in this group.

Instead, you demonstrated your poor understanding of rape by commenting that “Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent” and added that this wasn’t “some violent, forcible, horrible rape.” But you didn’t stop there. You further established your unconscionable ignorance when you stating that Ms. Moralez “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as Mr. Rambold. Really Mr. Baugh?

Even if Ms. Moralez did appear older than 14, she was still in high school, a fact that Mr. Rambold clearly knew. What teacher does not know that having sex with one of their students is wrong on multiple levels? And even if you ignore the VERY LARGE age difference between a teenaged girl and a middle-aged man, the power differentials between teacher and student are huge. Teachers are authority figures. They are supposed to provide instruction and knowledge. A student’s job is to listen and obey. Thus, it just wasn’t possible for Ms. Moralez to be as much in control of the situation as Mr. Rambold.

As for the not being a forcible rape part, I thought we’d done away with that nonsense after several politicians were disinvited to the party for their remarks on the topic but apparently that myth still lingers. Rape is not about sex; it is about power, control and the lack of consent. Mr. Rambold clearly had power and control over Ms. Moralez. And the fact that she was a minor made her legally incapable of consenting. Therefore, it was rape. And if you think that rape of ANY kind does not bring with it devastating consequences, then you are sadly mistaken.

As a family psychologist, I see the negative effects of rape all the time. I see it in the decrease in self-esteem many rape victims feel. I see it in the loss of innocence, the sense of betrayal, the misplaced guilt and the lack of control that rape often brings. I see it in the depression, anxiety and sometimes even addictive behavior that many rape survivors experience. I see it in the sexual challenges many victims experience as they try to regain some normalcy in their lives. And I see it in the grieving families whose lives are also shattered by the awful behavior of people like the man you claimed had “suffered enough” at the initial sentencing.

In reality, it was Ms. Moralez who suffered, so much so that she took her own life less than three weeks before her 17th birthday. Perhaps it was the rules of the rape culture in which we live – the rules that you have perpetuated yourself by your cruel words and ridiculous sentencing (first merely a sexual-offender treatment program and then only 30 days of his 15 year sentence) – that became too much for her to bear. It was these same rules that led some of Ms. Moralez’ classmates to bully, taunt and tease her about what happened. The rules also dictated that rape victims like Ms. Moralez blame themselves for what happened because men, no matter how old, coercive or just plain wrong, are rarely held accountable for their actions. So, in an effort to stop her suffering, Ms. Moralez shot herself. She looked to you for justice, Mr. Baugh, but instead only found more abuse. Now you must live with your part in the rape culture which probably contributed to the loss of that beautiful girl.

Given all the negative attention this case has generated, I hope you have taken the opportunity to learn from it. Hopefully you know at least a little more about rape culture and have taken responsibility for your role in a culture that does little to eradicate rape. It seems like you have tried to rectify your mistakes but, as I said earlier, it is not enough. Atonement is in order. Instead of just apologizing and going on your way, I suggest giving a significant donation to a rape crisis center. The next step should be educating educate yourself on rape – on all kinds of rape – and then teaching a seminar on the topic for lawyers and judges like yourself. You can think of other steps but whatever else you do, you must ensure that your future actions reflect the knowledge, compassion and respect that Ms. Moralez should have had from you. Although she is no longer able alive to receive those things, they are something her memory still demands.

After you do all that, then maybe I’ll be willing to call you Judge. But not until then.

Sincerely,

Dr. Misty Hook

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