By Tammi Pitzen, Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
I recently read about a judge in Montana being censored for some statements he made while handing out a sentence to a sex offender. This case has been so disturbing to me. Judge Baugh sent Rambold to prison for 31 days last year after he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent.
Rambold was a 47 year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the 2007 rape. The victim was one of his students. She committed suicide while the case was pending trial.
Baugh said during Rambold’s sentencing in August that the teenager was “probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant” and that she “appeared older than her chronological age.”
I have actually been thinking about this case a lot lately. But not in connection to the heinous crime that was committed by Rambold, the teacher. More in connection with the heinous acts by Judge Baugh.
Remember the old adage that went something like — “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”?
Judge Baugh’s words hurt.
They hurt many victims who will remain silent because of hearing how this victim was blamed by someone in authority. His words hurt the parents of this child who are already grieving. His words hurt the many people who work to protect children in our world. His words hurt in a way that he can not imagine, because if he could imagine, he would have never uttered any of them.
According to the article he will be allowed to retire. This might muddy his name for a short time, but really in essence, will have no impact on his life at all.
When we chose to take the career path that goes along the “high road”, we chose to have our words mean something.
Judge Baugh chose this higher road. His words meant something. They meant something to a lot of people when he said the victim “appeared older than her chronological age”. They meant something to a lot of people when the Judge decided that a victim is in as much control of a situation as a sex offender. They meant the most to victims of child sexual abuse. They meant a lot to offenders of child sexual abuse.
This young victim killed herself. She committed suicide. Her sexual abuse equated to a death sentence for her.
Thirty one days for sex offender Rambold. His sentence was all suspended except for 31 days.
Thankfully, there is a part two to this story.
Other people used their words to make things right. The State appealed the sentencing. The Supreme Court in Montana was looking at what they can do to make a statement. They were considering censoring the Judge.
The Judge plans on retiring. I doubt whatever “punishment” is handed down to this judge will have an impact on his life. After the public outrage, he apologized to the family.
Funny thing about words. It turns out they can hurt. They can’t be taken back. Sometimes the pain caused by words can outlast the pain from a broken bone.
I am making a choice today.
I will choose my words carefully. I will make my words mean something.
I will think every day about how my words might have helped a 14 year old sexually abused by their teacher or sexually abused by anyone.
What will you do?