This appalling story simply infuriated me. It shows us exactly why Christian morality fails, how it fails–and what it fears most of all.
All My What.
Here’s the setup.
A young man in Idaho raped a teenager in 2016. He’d met her in 2014; she lied on social media and told him she was 16 when she was 14. They hung out a lot in real life and online. Her mother called his mother to explain that this relationship had to end, but Herrera’s mother either didn’t or couldn’t put a stop to it. Not long afterward, Herrera snuck into the girl’s bedroom and raped her without a condom and despite her protests. Later, when he heard that the girl had been impregnated (we don’t know if it’s true; if it is, I hope she got whatever care she needed), he called her mother–who recorded the call and got him to admit he was fully aware of her age when he raped her.
Cody Herrera claimed he had had 34 partners by the tender age of 19, but that luxury of choice didn’t stop him from assaulting a 14-year-old. The judge in the case, Randy Stoker, was simply shocked, shocked I tells ya! He said he’d never even seen that “level of sexual activity” in someone so young (um, he’s 66, so I guess he farted and forgot the Summer of Love and all that). The rapist apparently also watched a lot, as in a lot a lot, of porn (the nasty kind featuring rape) and confessed to sexual fantasies about another young girl.
His attorney told Judge Randy Stoker that his client was “young and somewhat naive in many respects.”
He’s a lamb, I’m sure.
And Randy Stoker agreed that Herrera’s rape of a child was not enough to get him more than a slap on the wrist and a genuinely weird and light sentence: six months to a year of a prison therapy program, and then a probation order that includes celibacy until he gets married.
Cody Herrera is required to abstain from all sexual congress until he is married (to a woman, one assumes).
And Randy Stoker figures justice has been done.
Hooray Team Justice!
So Now Let’s Meet the Worst Judge Ever.
Randy Stoker is a Republican through and through, appointed to his bench by the Republican Governor of Idaho, Butch Otter. (Yes, really. That’s really the name this guy uses in his professional life. I totally know and I’m cringing right along with you. It’s just an Idaho thing. The power structure in Idaho is so Christian it hurts. I’m just shocked that he’s Catholic.) I’ve got no idea what religion Randy Stoker belongs to–Mormonism is being noised about, but I didn’t see any official word–but he sure ain’t going to be an atheist, let’s put it that way. He acts completely in line with right-wing Christians’ expectations, so either he’s in their group or he’s on board with ’em.
This case is not the first controversial decision Mr. Stoker has ever made, either. Just a couple years ago, he presided over a sexual assault case that rocked the state and might even have made headlines outside of it: a young black high school student was brutally assaulted by a trio of white football players. The assault was so bad it caused internal injuries to the youth. There were 30 witnesses who confirmed the assault, and they also confirmed that various racial slurs were used during the attack and at other times while the student attended the (almost entirely-white) school. And Mr. Stoker gave the primary rapist a couple of years of probation and 300 hours community service, with the option to expunge the attack from his record entirely if he’s a good little sex attacker in the meantime. Oh, and the attacker will be able to do the community service in Texas, where his family moved after the attack.
After that decision, almost 150,000 people signed the Change.org petition to remove Randy Stoker from the bench, but it doesn’t seem like the petition succeeded because here we are today talking about this fossilized goddamned troglodyte’s latest antics. Last month the petition’s page got updated to say that the state’s Supreme Court is finally going to be “investigating” the guy, but I really don’t expect much out of one of the most religious and conservative states in the entire nation. The mere fact that it took the state almost two fuckin’ years to get to that point speaks volumes about how seriously they’re taking it.
So this judge really seems to feel a warm, cozy affinity for rapists. I’d add that the affinity seems to extend most to rapists who are nice white guys raping people who aren’t part of his own tribe–like black people and women, especially sexually-active ones, and internet users.
When Cody Herrera–who is, let me remind you, accused of the rape of a 14-year-old girl–came before Randy Stoker, he certainly got lucky with the judge who’d be hearing and sentencing the case. He was getting a paragon of Christian morality who knew exactly–EXACTLY–how to handle this situation.
Oh, did he ever.
Social Media! J’accuse!
Cody Herrera could have gotten life in prison for his rape of a 14-year-old girl. But instead, the rapist got sent to a treatment program run by Idaho’s prison system–a sort of halfway mark between incarceration and probation. And if he finishes their program within a year, he’ll just be on probation for a while.
The judge made sure that our rapist-du-jour knows that all forms of illegal sex are off the table on this probation order. That includes fornication, which is actually still against the law in Idaho. Fornication means “sex before/outside of marriage,” so Herrera can’t go boffing anybody until his probation is over–unless he finds a woman who doesn’t mind marrying a child rapist.
The judge went on to complain about social media, since he’s sure that’s the whole reason this rape happened. Obviously. He said he’d happily just “eliminate the internet, and we’d all have better lives.” If you’re wondering how that’d happen, just know that he’s comparing the modern day to the Mayberry fantasy that fundagelicals typically fantasize about as The Good Ole Days when rape never, ever happened.
And for good measure, he whined a bit about “the level of morality in this country,” which is a dogwhistle. See, as America becomes less and less Christian, fundagelicals are convinced that America is becoming less and less moral, meaning that rapes will increase and men will sneak into 14-year-old girls’ bedrooms to rape them, cuz really, whatcha gonna do except institute a theocracy in America to clamp down on everyone so hard nobody can sneeze without fundagelicals’ permission.
And then he blamed the rape on the girl’s use of social media.
Really. The Guardian quotes him:
I am 66 years of age. When I was 19 years of age, the sexual proclivities of young people wasn’t anything, anything like I see today.
“I think it is a direct consequence of the social media system that we have in this country,” Stoker continued. “I can’t tell you how many times I have seen these cases: ‘How did this happen?’ ‘Well, I met somebody on social media.’”
Randy Stoker conceded that well, okay, gyah, maybe social media isn’t where all Idaho rape cases originate, but weasel-worded out of it by lamely concluding that “the vast majority” of rape cases originate through social media.
So it’s not really Cody Herrera’s fault that he snuck into a 14-year-old girl’s bedroom and raped her. It’s social media’s fault. If that girl hadn’t lied about her age to a guy who admits to fantasizing about rape and about the sexual abuse of children, then why gosh, he’d never have done what he did! He’s just a young and somewhat-naive little scamp who got led astray somehow by evil nasty social media!
And barely-teenage girls are part of that snare men face, natch.
Why Christian Morality is Wrong.
This judge is operating on a very standard attitude that we see in right-wing Christians: that people are inherently very sinful and prone to doing the absolute worst, and the only way to stop them is to shrink-wrap the world to keep “temptation” away.
You’ve likely heard of Libby Anne’s “two boxes” vision of Christian morality. In it, sexual morality isn’t based on consent, but rather on what baby Jesus likes and approves of. Rape itself is wrong not because it is the violation of another person’s body without their consent, but because it’s unapproved sex. Rape of a child is wrong not because a child cannot give true consent to sex plus holy shit it’s non-consensual, but because it’s still unapproved sex. It doesn’t get more unapproved than unapproved already implies, so the rape of a child isn’t fundamentally worse than rape of an adult in the “two boxes” vision. Technically, anything outside of married intercourse between two opposite-sex spouses is completely, totally off-limits and as bad as bad can possibly get.
And when confronted with a story about a man who snuck into a 14-year-old girl’s bedroom and raped her, toxic Christians‘ first response is always, always going to be to figure out what that child did to deserve being raped. Because if temptation had been kept away from that rapist, he wouldn’t have raped her–obviously.
Of course, I’m not sure Randy Stoker really understands that what happened was not unapproved sex but full-on rape. It was not consensual at all. I haven’t seen any quotes from him that indicate that he views what Herrera did as actual rape or that it was totally and absolutely his own fault for committing it. I haven’t even heard him say anything sympathetic to or about Herrera’s victim.
Even more to the point, if temptation is totally kept away from this rapist, he won’t rape anybody else! So he just gets ordered not to have off-limits sex, and he’ll be fine. And if he gets married, obviously the suddenly within-limits sex will totally be all he ever wants, because marital rape is certainly not really a thing within the “two boxes” vision. It can’t be. One part of a body can’t rape the other, after all. So Herrera’s Jesus-approved cocksheath will take the place of all that ickie off-limits sex and everything will be fine forever and ever and puppies will sing “Hallelujah” (but not the one by that gay lady, obviously, even though it’s the hands-down best cover of the song that’s ever been done).
No, I didn’t need to fucking lose my shit tonight. But here we are. Shit: Lost.
No word on why this judge is implicitly telling this rapist to get married, but it’s easy enough to see why he might have. Marriage means rapists don’t rape, obviously. They have designated cocksheaths, after all. Rapists who get married instantly become totally wonderful husbands who never, ever rape their wives or go out to find other women to rape.
Yeah, I know a bunch of “No Longer Quivering” ladies who’d probably like to slap this judge till he’s disintegrated into flinders. And I’d be seriously considering joining them after my own experiences in a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ marriage.
Another Teensy-Weensy Problem.
The probation order is very likely to be unenforceable.
A lot of legal eagles think that Americans’ constitutional rights include the right to boff willing, consensual partners.
The judge said he’d be enforcing it through polygraph tests, but these tests are hardly reliable. So there’s no real way to tell if the probation conditions are being met or not other than spying on someone and keeping way closer tabs on Herrera than might be strictly allowable. See, in America, even convicts and felons have rights. (Hell, even corpses do–which is a big part of why abortion is legal. Your body, yours, forever, and nobody gets to use it without your ongoing and explicit consent-oh, hell, there’s that word again that toxic Christians hate.) So if Herrera wanted to appeal this order, a lot of big name lawyers think he’d win.
Plus, fornication laws got struck down as unconstitutional back in 2003 in the US Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which also struck down sodomy laws (which are usually seen as anti-anal-sex laws, so they’re seen, not without reason, as targeting gay men). The judge in that decision specifically decriminalized consensual sex of any kind.
In fact, according to the NYT‘s interview with a Harvard Law School lecturer and former federal judge, Nancy Gertner, judges aren’t really allowed to impose limits on people that “have to do with dignity and substantive due process.” For example, she continued, a judge couldn’t make someone get a lobotomy or a vasectomy–and putting limits on Herrera’s sex life, as long as he’s acting within consent, would likely be easily seen as similar to those restrictions.
Rights are very easy to grant to people that the dominant group likes. As they say, freedom of speech isn’t for Disney movies; it’s for the people saying stuff the dominant group doesn’t want to hear. Rights are a lot harder to grant to those who fall outside of society’s approval and perceived circle of protection. I’m not saying I like this Herrera creep–he sounds like scum to me all the way around–but I am saying that I think that we need to be extra-vigilant about unilaterally stripping rights from people even when it seems like it’s for a good cause. It’s mighty hard to walk back a rolling-away of rights.
So there is that. The probation order is very likely simply illegal on the face of it–and it speaks very loudly to toxic Christian notions of sexual assault and women’s perceived culpability for their own victimization. And gang, I’m gonna use the very growed-up word “appalled” here to describe my reaction to the idea of this judge tacitly encouraging this rapist to go get married so he can go have YAY JESUS-APPROVED SEX so he doesn’t feel the need to rape anybody ever again.
Possibly the Worst Part.
Out of all the other totally ghastly and freakishly misogynistic aspects to this case, this one stood out. At the end of it all, Randy Stoker, the judge appointed by the Governor of Idaho to dispense justice to lawbreakers, said that he knows that “what you do in the past is a good indication of what you’re going to do in the future.” (That’s true, incidentally, way more so than toxic Christians want to think about.)
And he still handed down the sentence he did to a man who snuck into a little girl’s bedroom and then raped her.
Knowing that a person’s past actions determine their future actions, he still gave a child rapist a slap on the wrist–along with the tender assurance that Idaho’s justice system always has a place in its dark, wizened, shriveled heart for someone like that. One trembles to imagine what other would-be rapists thought of seeing that light sentence. Rape culture kinda thrives on that sense of permission.
I’m guessing that Randy Stoker will be seeing them in front of his bench soon–and will give them similarly light little slaps on the wrists because he doesn’t understand why someone who creeps into a child’s bedroom and rapes her needs to spend a single hour of a single day in prison. “Don’t you worry none,” he croons to them. “I’m on your side!” And he won’t connect how he himself contributes to the problem he claims to want to fix.
So tell me again: where is this so-called objective morality of Christianity’s, when a relic of a judge in (arguably, and maybe I’m biased here) the most religious goddamn state in a country swamped with religious zealots can send a message like this about the sexual assault of an underage girl? Where is this wonderful Jesus-scented and true forever morality when a mother must see her raped daughter’s attacker get off with fucking probation and therapy for destroying her innocence and childhood?
No, what Randy Stoker thinks should happen is that we should simply remove the ability to communicate with people instantly. Social media should be removed! That’s the real problem here! That’ll fix everything! Oh, and get that rapist married off!
He’s showing us exactly what he fears–and by extension, that’s what toxic Christians fear.
Look to What They Want to Control.
When the dominant members of a broken system start talking about fixing This Big Whole Problem They See in Society, look at what they want to restrict, what they want to take away, the rights they want to limit.
The rights and freedoms they want to deny others are what they’re really afraid of.
That’s what they see as assaulting their power and chipping away at their influence. They’re not going to attack the real problem, which is that rape culture tells men that it’s okay to rape underage girls and then shields them from their own actions’ consequences. They’re not going to even want to engage with the fact that this sort of rape has happened for decades and centuries under the watch of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and way before social media came along. Rape culture is baked into toxic Christianity just like child rape is baked into Catholicism. They can’t really be separated without a huge impact on the broken system’s power structure.
This case is another very clear indication that Christianity is not the source of morality or wisdom, and that rape culture itself is an outgrowth of Christianity that we are hopefully going to leave behind soon.
Incidentally… Randy Stoker’s office number is 208-736-4036 and he’s part of the 5th District Court. Just sayin’. A propos of nothing. Don’t mind me.