A women attend the so-called 'SlutWalk,' Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, which organizers described as a demonstration against those who blame the victims of sex crimes. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Last year, a defense attorney called an 11-year-old gang rape victim a “spider” luring men into her web. When the New York Times covered the case, they reported that she “dressed older than her age,” wore make up and hung out with teenage boys. It wasn’t a new framing; when young girls are raped—especially young girls of color—they’re frequently blamed for “enticing” adult men or painted as complicit in the attack because of their supposed sexual maturity. From the criminal justice system that re-traumatizes assault victims to a media that calls rape cases “sex scandals” or insists statutory rape isn’t “rape rape”, we are failing young sexual assault survivors every day.
One young woman we have failed is Cherice Moralez. When Moralez was 14, she was raped by her 49-year-old teacher. She killed herself a few weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Last week, a Montana judge sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold—who admitted raping Moralez—to just thirty days in jail. Judge G. Todd Baugh said Moralez was “older than her chronological age,” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. Baugh also said the assault “wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”
While state prosecutors are seeking to appeal the sentence and the case has generated justifiable outrage, some believe the thirty days was too much. Former lawyer Betsy Karasik, for example, used the case as an example to argue for the decriminalization of student-teacher “relationships” in The Washington Post. Karasik insisted that no one she knew who had sex with teachers was “horribly damaged” and that “many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature.”
But biological maturity or “acting” mature is not the same thing as being an adult. Roxane Gay writes, “People often want to ‘complicate’ the statutory rape conversation by talking about the sexual empowerment of adolescents and this and that. These exercises in intellectual masturbation are pointless.”
“I was a teenager, we were all teenagers and we all felt empowered in our youthful seductions. We maybe were and we probably weren’t. We like to tell ourselves we know exactly what we’re doing, even when we don’t.”
When I was a sophmore in high school, my social studies teacher—who was his 60s or 70s—asked me to come to the board because “everyone wants to see how you look in that shirt.” I stopped going to class, too ashamed to return. Before the semester ended, the teacher cornered me in the hallway and told me if I gave him a hug, he would give me a 95 in the class. I did it.