The recent court ruling of Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh is creating a maelstrom of activism and public outcry in the United States. As CNN reported earlier today, the National Organization for Women (NOW) organized a protest outside of Billings Courthouse on Thursday, Aug. 29th. Baugh is being asked to immediately resign for handing down a sentence of 30 days in jail to former teacher Stacey Dean Rambold. Rambold faced this sentencing for the alleged rape of Cherice Moralez in 2008, a 14 year old student at the time of the incident. This situation raises many questions as to why children in the United States are being treated as mature enough to make sexual decisions.
Baugh has already had to apologize for statements which blame the victim. As reported by the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 28th, Baugh referred to the victim as being “older than her chronological age,” insinuating that Moralez was emotionally capable of consenting to the sexual relationship with Rambold.
According to an article published by the Huffington Post on Aug. 27, Cherice Moralez took her own life in 2010. This casts further doubts on Judge Baugh's assertions regarding Moralez. In “The entertainment industry is no place for children,” published Aug. 28th on Examiner.com, questions are raised as to why American society allows children to be exploited by the entertainment industry. As adults, acting out is often blamed on these people who have been systematically victimized from a young age.
Is this case with Cherice Moralez symptomatic of the same problems? Children are treated as adults on screen, sexualized by the entertainment industry, and young teenagers are portrayed as being capable of making adult decisions. The popular television series “Pretty Little Liars” portrays a 14 year old girl having a sexual relationship with a teacher. The show seems to convey the message that the young character is emotionally mature enough to make the decision to have a sexual relationship with an adult.
Judge Baugh's decision sends a message that teachers bear little to no responsibility in such situations. In 2004 Debra Lafave took advantage of a 14 year old male student, completely avoiding jail when the victim did not testify in court. There is a pattern arising here, and cases such as these will only make it more difficult for students to come forward if they find themselves in a situation where they are being taken advantage of by an adult. Perhaps it is time to stop talking about individual cases and begin trying to situate these incidents within the larger picture of American society.