In 2013, Montana judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold to thirty days in jail for rape. Rambold had been convicted of raping a 14-year-old student, after pleading guilty in 2008. In 2010, Rambold entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the state, which called for prosecutors to put the case on hold for three years. According to the agreement, the charges would be dismissed if Rambold entered, and completed, a sex offender treatment program, and complied with other conditions. Rambold was terminated from the program in November of 2010, after authorities learned he was having unsupervised visits with minors, and failed to tell his counselors about a sexual relationship he was having with a woman.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Baugh stated the victim, again a 14-year-old girl at the time of the rape, was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. Baugh also said the girl, Cherice Morales, was “older than her chronological age.” Many Montana residents were outraged at the sentence given to Stacey Dean Rambold, as the prosecution had requested Rambold be sentenced to twenty years, ten of those behind bars. Judge Baugh sentenced Rambold to twenty-eight years, ruled as time served, and added an extra day, resulting in the thirty day sentence.
This week, that sentence was overturned by the Montana Supreme Court. In a unanimous ruling, the Montana court ruled Stacey Dean Rambold’s case must be assigned to a new judge for re-sentencing. Unfortunately, Cherice Morales will not be in court to see her rapist finally brought to justice; Cherice took her own life in 2010. According to many reports, Cherice was a troubled teenager, whose mother believes her daughter’s suicide is a direct result of being raped by a teacher she trusted. What makes this case all the more troubling is it is not Montana’s first, specifically when rape occurs in Missoula County.
Attorney General Eric Holder launched an investigation in 2012 into how Missoula, Montana handles female sexual assault cases. The investigation by the DOJ resulted in a letter sent to Fred Van Valkenburg, the Missoula County Attorney General. The DOJ also recommended both the Missoula police department and the University of Montana increase and improve resrouces, and entered into an agreement with both offices. In 2013, the DOJ recommended the Missoula Attorney General’s office enter into a similar agreement, but since the DOJ never issued a report of their findings, the county attorney, Fred Van Valkenburg, said “there wasn’t enough evidence of wrongdoing to justify the demands.”
Montanans see Missoula as a college town, while in other parts of the country, it’s known as “the rape capital of the country.” According to a letter sent to the Missoula County Attorney by the DOJ, there are numerous instances of absolutely horrible responses by law enforcement to female victims of sexual assault, including:
*A deputy county attorney who allegedly quoted “religious passages” to a woman reporting a sexual assault.
*The mother of a 5-year-old girl, sexually assaulted by an adolescent boy, told the DOJ the prosecutor handling the case said to her: “Boys will be boys.”
*A sexual assault victim, discussing options for her case, alleges she was told by a deputy county attorney all she wanted was “revenge.”
Other victims told the DOJ they were reluctant to go to the authorities, because of the horrible things they had heard about Missoula’s treatment of female sexual assault victims. From Mother Jones:
The Justice Department also determined that, after a review of police files, “in some cases…Missoula Police officers had developed substantial evidence to support prosecution, but [the office] without documented explanation, declined to charge the case.” According to the DOJ, in one case, police obtained a confession from a man who admitted to raping a woman while she was unconscious, and recommended that he be charged with rape and car theft. The prosecutor’s office allegedly declined to bring charges, citing “insufficient evidence.” In another case, a man admitted to having sex with a mentally ill woman, and said that at some point she asked him to stop and said that he was hurting her—but he wasn’t sure when he’d stopped. The police also recommended rape charges in that case, and the prosecutor declined to bring charges, according to the Justice Department. The DOJ determined that the prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute “nearly every case” involving nonstranger assaults on adult women who had a mental or physical disability, or who were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
Understand, this is not the police. This is the Missoula County Attorney, and his employees. Van Valkenburg alleges the DOJ is lying, that the agency has a “political agenda,” and the truth does not matter to them. He also claims no attempts to contact him or his office were made prior to the DOJ letter being made public. A Justice Department spokeswoman told Mother Jones the DOJ had reached out to the Missoula County Attorney’s office “more than a half-dozen times over the past 21 months in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution.” She stated the agency stands by their findings.
So, is it Montana? Missoula? Or is this just simple rape culture? Could it be more than that? We hear it all the time, how sexual assault victims are to blame for the violence perpetrated against them. We hear how all victims, especially women, minorities, and the LGBT community, are to blame for, well, everything. We hear it on television, on the radio, in Congress, everywhere. Blame the victim, any victim, all victims. Blame Trayvon Martin for his own death. Blame the young woman in Steubenville for her own rape. Blame Kelly Vidal. Blame Cherice Morales. Blame the poor for the ills of this country, blame single mothers for gun violence. Cherice Morales is dead. Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh distanced himself from his horrible comments about Cherice, but not from his sentence for Stacey Dean Rambold. Fred Van Valkenburg says the DOJ has a political agenda, and is lying about his office, even though women have stated they did not go to the authorities because of his office’s abysmal treatment of sexual assault victims. Montana seems to have, at least in Rambold’s case, and in Fred Van Valkenburg’s office, a real problem with victim blaming.