In the third world, they stone a girl to death for being raped. In the United States, we just give her rapist and de facto murderer a slap on the wrist, and reassure the world that she was asking for it.
Think I’m exaggerating? Cherice Morales was fourteen when her 49-year-old teacher began to rape her. Three years later, she killed herself. The reason her story is in the news is because her rapist, Stacey Rambold, got 30 days in jail for the rapes.
After Morales killed herself, Rambold was supposed to complete a sex offender treatment program, but he didn’t. His case was revived when it was revealed that he was, among other offenses, having unsupervised visits with minors. His sentencing judge, Judge G. Todd Baugh, who never met the victim, said that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold was, and that she was “older than her chronological age.” “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape like you see in movies,” he said. (What kind of movies are you watching, your honor?)
Yesterday, after there was an outcry, the judge apologized for his statements about Morales. He says that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say, and that his statements are not relevant to the sentencing. But he isn’t rescinding the sentencing, either. Thirty days is what the man gets, minus one day already served.
In this raw and profane piece in xo jane, a woman who suffered repeated statutory rape starting at age 13, reminds us why there are laws about statutory rape in the first place:
The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity to consent. I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period above, I see a child.
I thought I was the exception for these men, the girl so precocious and advanced that it superseded social norms. I thought that I was “older than my chronological age.”
Well, what do you expect from the modern, secular world, right? What do you expect from a culture that simultaneously glorifies and degrades human sexuality? Of course you’re going to have needy girls and lecherous men. Of course there will be suffering and heartache, and innocents will suffer and predators will go free.
But surely we Catholics know better than that, yes? Surely the Church on earth, imperfect as she is, is a safe haven for the young and vulnerable.
Well, just yesterday I ran afoul of a prominent Catholic writer, a professor who often works with college students. The last time I talked to him when he said in public that the way to deal with a teen mom who’d given birth at age fourteen is to tell the “slut” to “keep her legs closed.”
No long ago, I was speaking to a Catholic priest about how difficult life seemed when I was a teenager, and he went into a long reverie about the teenage girls that cross his path. “Those short skirts, that heavy eye makeup—” he said . . . “Ohh, they know exactly what they’re doing.”
Think rapists come from nowhere? Think they would dare to do what they do, if it were not for men like these? You don’t have to be a rapist to be part of the problem. All you have to do is make sure we all remember that the girl is to blame. No matter how young she is, the girl is always to blame.
- It’s her fault because she knows how to look like a woman (even though she’s not).
- It’s her fault because she wears padded bras and skanky clothing (even though her body is tender and unfinished on the inside).
- It’s her fault because she knows all the moves (because she’s been trained since toddlerhood to writhe to a beat, because that’s what makes the adults in the house point the camera at them).
- It’s her fault because she works hard to look sexy (even though she really only wants to look pretty, and sexy is the only pretty she’s ever been shown).
- It’s her fault because she’s loud and dirty because she knows it gets her something (and she knows that something is better than nothing).
It’s her fault because she’s learned that she has power, and she does wield it (because the only time men speak to her is to say two things, “Do what I tell you to do” and “I want you.” If you were a lonely girl, which would you rather hear?).
[I]t doesn’t matter if a young girl is saying yes, it’s an adult man’s job to say no.
And she’s not just talking to Rambold and other men who happen to have a thing for young girls. She’s talking to all adults who should know better: the judge, the defense attorney, the professors, the priests, the therapists, the school principles, the combox snipers, men and women. She’s speaking to us. To me.
What do I say when I meet a young girl in trouble? What do I see when a teenage girl sashays by in skintight jeans, made up like a porn star? Do I see a girl? Or do I grimace and avert my eyes from just another young slut who’s out to ruin the world?
What do we tell girls, besides, “Do what I tell you to do?” Do we tell them, “You are still young”? Do we tell them, “Stand behind me, and I will protect you”? Do we tell them that there is still hope, there is a way to get love and attention without being used? Or do we tell the girls that it’s their fault, always their fault?
I don’t want to be the background music for the song and dance of the likes of Rambold and Judge Baugh, who say that there is no such thing as innocence. Keep on saying it, and it will come true.
photo credit: Cat Eyes via photopin (license)
This post originally ran in 2013. I’m reposting it in light of recent conversations about Maria Goretti.