Generally, the courts in Montana go about their business without much notice outside the state.
But after 29 years on the bench of the 13th District Court in Montana, Judge G. Todd Baugh has brought the national spotlight to Yellowstone County and is hearing calls from across the country for his ouster after he imposed a 30-day sentence in a rape case, and said the 14-year-old victim was “as much in control of the situation” as the high school teacher who ultimately pleaded guilty. The judge also described the teenager as “being older than her chronological age,” even though the age of consent in Montana is 16.
Perhaps the judge should have just used the words that too many rape victims have heard: “She was asking for it.”
In this case, though, the victim could not hear those words. She killed herself in February 2010.
Plenty of others have heard those words. Tens of thousands of people have put their names on online petitions calling for Baugh to step down. Protesters crowded the lawn of the courthouse Thursday, vowing to campaign against him if he seeks reelection in 2014.
The judge, for his part, has apologized for his comments but not for the sentence he imposed.
In a letter to the Billings Gazette, he wrote: “In the Rambold sentencing, I made references to the victim’s age and control. I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.
“What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing. My apologies to all my fellow citizens.”
The apology was rejected by many people, including the rape victim’s mother, Auliea Hanlon, who told the Associated Press: “He’s just covering his butt. He wouldn’t have said anything if people hadn’t spoken up. He didn’t reverse his decision, so it’s irrelevant.”
While Baugh’s actions have sparked outrage, this is one of many instances of “pushback” that author Susan Brownmiller has seen since the publication of her groundbreaking book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” in 1975.
She emphasized that in the Montana case, the girl was 14, making her “incapable of giving an informed consent.”
“The consent laws are very clear about that,” Brownmiller said in a telephone interview. “A 14-year-old, by law, is not responsible.”
She added, “There are a lot of guys in positions of authority, like a judge, who really have no idea of what rape is.”
Other examples include former U.S. representative Todd Akin of Missouri, who lost a campaign for Senate after he said that women who are victims of what he called “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant, and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who said in a campaign for the U.S. Senate: “Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
At least some do understand what rape is and are speaking out, including Pete Taylor, a 51-year-old head waiter at a restaurant in Billings who attended the protest wearing a T-shirt on which he had written “14 is 14.”