Posted by Sappho on October 6th, 2013 filed in Sexuality
Let’s start with this item, from a couple of weeks ago, Montana man serves 30-day sentence for rape of 14-year-old girl.
Stacey Rambold, 54, left the Montana state prison in Deer Lodge after serving the term handed down by district judge G Todd Baugh of Billings for the 2007 rape of 14-year-old Cherice Moralez.
The judge drew outrage last month over the leniency of the sentence and comments he made that appeared to pin some of the blame on Moralez.
… Moralez committed suicide in 2010 before Rambold went to trial.
We have a legal continuum, when it comes to how we judge “consensual” sex.
- If it’s “consensual” sex between a 54-year-old high school teacher and his 14-year-old student, we call it rape, and the man can go to jail (and really should
- If it’s a 54-year-old college professor, making advances to his 19-year-old student, for whose grades he is responsible, it’s not criminal, but she can bring sexual harassment charges against the college in civil court, and the college probably has a policy (and should have a policy) that says they’ll fire the professor’s ass if he has sex with his students.
- If it’s a 54-year-old man having sex with a 19-year-old woman whom he doesn’t grade or in any way supervise or evaluate, heads may shake and tongues may wag, but the man isn’t doing anything legally actionable, in criminal or civil court.
And I think that continuum is just about right. 14-year-olds need protection against sexual advances from much older adults, and should be considered unable to consent, rather than being put in a he-said/she-said situation in court where they have to prove that they said no and fought back. 19-year-olds may, indeed, sometimes fully and enthusiastically consent to sex with their professors, but an academic environment in which professors get to boff the students they’re currently grading sucks in many ways: for the students who may have “consented” to sex only because they were unwilling to turn down the advances of someone who was grading them, for the students who did go through the scary experience of having to sexually reject the guy who was grading them, and for all the other students in the class, who now reasonably doubt the honesty of the lascivious professor’s grading policy. And May/December relationships among adults are not in any way intrinsically wrong, but are reasonably (in general terms at least) a subject of public discussion, since, among other things, there may be things that are red flags in December that wouldn’t similarly be red flags in a guy your age.
Now, my second point is about double jeopardy. (I bring this up, not obviously because it comes up in the Rambold case, but because it has come up in other cases.) In general, when an institution has already gone over a complaint and reached a resolution on it, it shouldn’t then go back (perhaps years later) and change it’s ruling. In general, if a guy got off scot free once, even if unfairly, then he should be in the clear unless and until he offends again. But there may be some narrow exceptions. We have, for instance, the possibility of bringing federal civil rights charges for certain crimes, because of a history in which local and state courts couldn’t always be trusted to bring justice for certain racially charged crimes, but the burden to be met to bring a federal civil rights charge is appropriately difficult.
So, in the case of sexual abuse/harassment/exploitation, I’d consider that there are some narrow cases in which an institution that hasn’t acted in the past should go back and remove the people they failed to remove in the first place. Those would be cases like those in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, where charges were covered up that would actually have been criminal if brought to police in a timely fashion, charges that were sexual abuse of minors. In this case, “well, there were only one or two reports, and they happened years ago” doesn’t cut it, and all the priests guilty of such things needed, once the shit hit the fan and the public learned what had been going on, to be removed from any position where they could exploit trust to abuse minors. If the priests can’t now be charged, at least the Church should stop recycling them as priests.
There’s one form of “consensual” sex between adults where I’d say the same, and that’s sex between a psychiatrist or therapist and that person’s patient; that should be grounds for losing a license, and if you actually have a practice somewhere, where people have gotten off the hook in the past when you know they’ve done this kind of thing (not people who have been charged and not found to have done the deed, but people who definitely did this), then you should go back and remove them from your practice.
The same isn’t true for sex with students or subordinates, as long as none of said students or subordinates have spoken up to actually say that this was other than consensual sex, and as long as the organization has already made a ruling, and years have passed. Lots of organizations didn’t take these things as seriously, decades ago, as they do now, and that’s unfortunate, but, as I say, cases where you allow the same institution a retcon should be narrow. If you’re talking about consensual sex between adults, that bar isn’t met.
But this particular form of “consensual” sex between adults is still one where “consent” was always a bit sketchy, as long as one of the adults held power over the grades or work evaluations of the other, at the time the sexual connection was made. So, now that the organization does have rules against this (and it should, at least for current students and direct reports), if the person reoffends, his ass should be canned.
If, on the other hand, he goes off and has sex with barely legal people who have nothing whatsoever to do with his job, then he’s not doing anything intrinsically wrong. Or rather, he may be doing something very intrinsically wrong indeed (such as cheating on his wife), but he’s not doing anything intrinsically so exploitive of his sex partner that anyone needs to be rushing to the defense of the woman in question. At a certain point, people grow up, and you have to let them make their own choices. May/December, whatever it’s drawbacks (and we can certainly discuss them) is nothing like “this person controls that person’s grades.”
So, “sex” with minors: very, very bad, should go to jail, and certainly shouldn’t be trusted with kids again. Sex with students, less bad than sex with minor students, but still bad, and you should be fired. Sex with fully consenting adults of a certain age, may be worth discussing in terms of what the drawbacks and red flags may be, but nowhere near in the same ballpark as the other two.
And Rambold really, really, really should have gotten more than 30 days.