By: Tonya B. Lewis
Rape has been a problem for centuries. No other crime tears at the fabric, conscience and collective spirit of a community or family than rape. Case in point, the story of the Biblical king David is mired by the rape of his daughter, Tamar, by her half-brother, which ultimately destroyed David’s family. Just the very word is an affront to most people’s senses. Over time, the word has been anesthetized by referring to it as sexual assault, sexual abuse and molestation.
During college, I volunteered with a sexual assault awareness group, and we performed monologues about rape to an audience of college freshmen. I loved those gut-wrenching performances because I thought that, just maybe, we were preventing rape and providing resources and hope to rape survivors.
At one particular performance, I shared my “story.” It was a monologue I had rehearsed. It wasn’t my story, but it was someone’s story (and that made it real to me). During that session, a young woman began crying, got up and left. I quickly finished the monologue, and the group facilitator and I sought out the woman. She tearfully explained how she had been raped a few month’s prior by her boss. As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, she told us that she wasn’t sure she had been raped until she heard my monologue. She had said, “No,” but because she didn’t fight, yell or scream, she thought it wasn’t technically rape. In her mind, her soft, defiant, “No, please stop,” justified her being raped. As I listened to her story, I felt a mixture of anger and sadness. She was worried about how she would be viewed if the details of her attack became known. She blamed herself for that glass of alcohol she drank that night. She wondered if she had invited or caused her own attack. She feared if she went to trial how she would be portrayed. She questioned if she should report the rape and “ruin” her attacker’s life.
The rape is horrific. The aftermath is traumatic.
Most have heard comments about rape victims such as “She asked for it,” “Look at how she was dressed,” and “She shouldn’t have gotten drunk.” That’s tantamount to re-victimizing a rape survivor all over again. In her article, “Monsters, playboys, virgins and whores: Rape myths in the new media’s coverage of sexual violence,” Shannon O’Hara analyzes the case of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas who was allegedly raped by as many as 28 men ranging in age from 14 to 27-years-old. O’Hara mentions a New York Times article that stated that the victim “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” almost implying that the 11-year-old victim was at fault.
My flashback to the young lady who was raped in college and the 11-year-old girl was brought on by the case of another young rape victim, Cherice Moralez. Cherice was 14-years-old when she was raped by her then 49-year old teacher, Stacey Rambold. In 2010, Cherice committed suicide while the court case was pending.
This week, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison and excused all but 31 days of the sentence and gave him credit for one day served. In essence, Rambold will serve 30 additional days in prison for the rape of a 14-year-old girl. What defies further understanding is Baugh’s explanation of the ruling. He asserts that Cherice, was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. Not only is Baugh’s ruling a miscarriage of justice, it enforces one of the myths of rape that the victim is solely at fault. His ruling also sends a dangerous message to rape victims and assailants that rape is a crime that will virtually go unpunished.
In a 2005 journal article, researchers Paul Mason and Jane Monckton-Smith write that the public perception of “real rape” is that it “is perpetrated by a stranger and involves aggravating violence”—a belief that Baugh echoed in his comments about the case.
“Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent. 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 this forcible beat-up rape,” Baugh said in an interview with the Billings Gazette.
Baugh’s empty apology for his words and justification of his ruling in this case are egregious, so much in fact, that I joined the chorus of those asking for his resignation in a MoveOn.org petition. To this day, Baugh continues to stand by his ruling despite the backlash.
A man or woman does not have to be beat in order to be raped. There is no such thing as “legitimate rape” as an ignorant Todd Akin asserted during his ill-fated run for Senate. By law, a minor can’t even give consent—even if they want to. I don’t even know how it’s even legal for a judge to give such a light sentence for such an offense, especially to a defendant who violated the terms of his plea deal by getting “terminated from a sex offender program.”
The rancor I feel towards Baugh’s ruling is palpable—sticking with me like an unwanted houseguest. This case has galvanized me to be a more vocal proponent and advocate for women’s and victim’s rights. Some people sweep instances of rape under the rug because it makes them uncomfortable. I don’t know why society sometimes trivializes rape and castigates victims. It adds insult to injury. It’s creates a culture of rape where rape is tolerated and excused.
There are instances when attackers are wrongfully blamed and their character is assassinated. For example, in 2002, a high school student, Brian Banks, was wrongfully accused and convicted of rape by a classmate. He served 5 years in prison and 5 years of probation. His conviction was overturned after he secretly taped his accuser admitting that she lied.
I am not asserting that just because a person says they have been raped that the alleged attacker should be punished without due process. But, what I am asserting is that when a person has been found guilty, they shouldn’t receive a sentence that’s equal to having too many traffic citations. I am asserting that a child whether 11 or 14-years-old shouldn’t be blamed for their own rape because they act older than their chronological age. I am asserting that rape victims shouldn’t have to witness their attackers basically go free because one man thinks that if a rape wasn’t “some violent, forcible, horrible rape” it isn’t that bad. Rape is rape. And, it’s wrong.
Now, I’m wondering how many people out there define “real rape” as a violent act. Or, think that a child is responsible for being raped. A part of me doesn’t even want to know the answer.
Tonya B. Lewis is a journalist who has worked in radio, television and print journalism (newspaper and magazine). Throughout her exciting career, she has had the opportunity to interview some of Hollywood’s biggest stars such as Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and Jet Li. During a junket for the movie, “Unleashed,” she jokes that she was able to ask Morgan Freeman the best question in the room: “Can I take a picture with you?”
Tonya has worked as a reporter covering hard news such as politics, city and education for the Dallas Weekly and served as editor-at-large for Eclipse Magazine and Eclipse Scene. She also worked as a co-host and producer for ”Junior’s Joint Radio Show” on KNON 89.3 FM with a former Dallas city councilman discussing issues concerning Dallas and the nation.
A graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord School of Journalism and a former exchange student at La Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, her diverse background and experiences contributed to her starting her own freelance-writing business called The Writer’s Circle. Tonya has also taught journalism as an adjunct faculty member at Baylor University and started graduate school this fall.
Currently, Tonya serves as assistant director of media communications for Baylor University. Prior to working at Baylor, she served as public information officer and spokesperson for the city of Duncanville, Texas.
- Judge orders new hearing in Rambold rape case (billingsgazette.com)
- The painful lesson of the Cherice Moralez rape trial | Hadley Freeman (theguardian.com)
- 30-day rape sentence may be illegal (fox43.com)
- Judge Baugh orders new hearing in Rambold-rape case of 14 year-old girl who committed suicide (freakoutnation.com)
- 400 rally for resignation of judge in Billings rape case (ravallirepublic.com)
- Fury over US judge’s rape remarks (bbc.co.uk)
- 400 rally for resignation of judge in Billings rape case (missoulian.com)
- Hundreds rally for judge’s resignation and judicial review (billingsgazette.com)
- Mont. Judge Apologizes for Comments in Teen’s Rape (wilx.com)
- Judge defends 30-day sentence for teacher who raped girl, 14 (usatoday.com)