Maryland lawmakers and children's advocates joined yesterday in criticizing a Montgomery County judge who said an 11-year-old girl was partly to blame for a 23-year-old man sexually molesting her because the girl invited him into her bedroom and "it takes two to tango."
Del. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) called Circuit Court Judge Durke G. Thompson's comments "an outrage" and said the state legislature's Women's Caucus plans to look into his handling of the case.
"It's clearly been a while since Durke Thompson has been in the company of 11-year-old girls; he doesn't realize how young and vulnerable they are," Kagan said. "His remark was ill-advised, naive and just dreadfully unfortunate."
Linda Spears, director of child protection for the Child Welfare League of America, said Thompson should apologize for his remarks.
"It ought to be fairly common sense that an 11-year-old holds no responsibility when an adult is mistreating them," Spears said. "It's ludicrous to me that this child would be culpable in any way, shape or form. It sends a very bad message to kids."
Thompson, a Circuit Court judge for six years, made the comments during a sentencing hearing on Tuesday at which he ordered Vladimir Chacon-Bonilla, of Alexandria, to serve 18 months in the county jail for a second-degree sex offense. The judge suspended the rest of a five-year state prison sentence and ordered Chacon-Bonilla to serve three years of probation and get alcohol abuse treatment.
Thompson has said that he cannot comment on his remarks because the rules of judicial ethics prevent him from publicly discussing a case while it is under consideration. Chacon-Bonilla has 90 days to ask Thompson to reconsider the sentence.
Montgomery prosecutors said the girl told police that she had sex with Chacon-Bonilla, whom she met through an Internet chat room, in her bedroom in July. In his guilty plea, Chacon-Bonilla admitted only to performing oral sex on the girl.
The girl's mother found him standing in her daughter's bedroom closet at 3 a.m. with his pants around his ankles and the room smelling of cigarettes and alcohol, prosecutors said.
Before imposing sentence on Chacon-Bonilla, Thompson addressed the court, explaining his reasoning. He said the case was "not unique" because it dealt with the "age-old problem . . . of how to deal with pubescent and even prepubescent women and older men." The laws forbidding sex with a minor, the judge said, are in place "to allow women to obtain sexual maturity" before they can give consent.
The judge said that Chacon-Bonilla's conduct was "unacceptable" and that he had "taken advantage" of the girl.
But the judge said he did not find Chacon-Bonilla to be a sexual "predator," as prosecutors had argued. He also said he thought it was unlikely that Chacon-Bonilla would repeat his offense.
In addressing comments by the girl's father that the family had been "destroyed" by the incident, the judge said the child's family must help the girl "become a responsible adult."
Then Thompson said that the girl gave Chacon-Bonilla "some invitation" into her home.
"I don't think [the victim] is free of fault," the judge said. "I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here."
Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas Gansler first criticized the judge's comments and Chacon-Bonilla's sentence on Tuesday in a news release issued hours after the hearing.
Gansler said yesterday that he had heard that the judge had criticized him, saying that he had taken the "tango" quote out of context. Gansler said he stood by his criticism that the judge's comments were inappropriate.
Chacon-Bonilla's attorney, Rebecca Nitkin, defended Thompson yesterday and said the judge's comments were aimed at the girl and her parents and was an attempt to "make her understand that she has to be careful with her behavior."
"Her culpability is obvious," Nitkin said. "It's hard for me, as a woman, to say that an 11-year-old child is culpable. . . . But it did take two to tango in this circumstance, and [Thompson] had the guts to say it."
Nitkin also said the girl was "extremely well developed," looks older than her age and was wearing heavy makeup and a "split-skirt" when Chacon-Bonilla met her.
She said her client thought the girl was 17 and became sick when he heard she was 11.
Nitkin said she told the judge during the sentencing hearing that the girl had been sending sexually suggestive comments to three other men in Internet chat rooms.
Other child advocates and some lawmakers reacted yesterday to news stories about Thompson's comments.
"Did he really say that?" asked state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Montgomery), who said the judge should "clarify" his comments.
"That would gut the statutory rape laws, if you could say, 'Well, judge, a 6-year-old or 7-year-old or 11-year-old agreed to participate,' " said Van Hollen, a lawyer. "At 11 years old, her age falls way within the statutory rape law."