Sometimes, it feels like rape victims are the ones on trial, rather than those who committed the crime. Case in point: A Dallas County judge recused herself from a rape case after saying the female victim "wasn't the victim she claimed to be." State District Judge Jeanine Howard had handed down a fairly light sentence to 20-year-old Sir Young, who pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl in 2011. The sentence — deferred probation with no sex offender requirements such as staying away from minors — was pretty shocking, considering Young had faced up to maximum 20 years in prison.
Howard's reasoning for going easy on Young? The girl "wasn't the victim she claimed to be," apparently. The Associated Press reports that the judge also said the victim already had multiple sexual partners and had given birth, although the victim's mother denies that her daughter was ever pregnant. The judge also cited a text the 14-year-old victim sent to Young, asking to spend time with him.
However, the victim, who is now 17 years old, had testified that she told Young "no" and "stop" several times. Following Young's sentence and the judge's comments, the victim told The Dallas Morning News, "It would have been better for me not to say anything."
Howard's comments play into a incredibly problematic myth surrounding rape — that women who have sex are too promiscuous to be sexually assaulted. Additionally, the judge's questioning of the text message is an extension of the idea that women who engage with their rapists, whether as friends, acquaintances or students, are somehow responsible for the crimes of their assailants.
The latter was most recently on display in the case of Stacey Dean Rambold, a Montana teacher who was sentenced to just 31 days in jail (and 14 years on probation) for raping his 14-year-old student. During the trial, Judge G. Todd Baugh discussed the victim's appearance, stating that she looked more mature for her age. He also placed responsibility for the rape on her, stating the victim was "probably as much in control of the situation as was the defendant."
Baugh later issued an apology in the Billings Gazette, which ended up revealing even more of his bias.
Obviously, a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape.
Rambold's brief sentence was reversed last week by the Montana Supreme Court, which ruled that a different judge must handle the re-sentencing.
With all this is mind, it's not exactly surprising that rape continues to be one of the most underreported crimes in the United States. However, new data shows that sex-assault reporting may be improving for victims: After shedding its archaic definition of "forcible rape" in 2012 — the FBI now considers rape sex without consent — the number of rapes has increased, according to a recent FBI crime report.
And this is a good thing: Increased reporting means the FBI's new, all-encompassing definition allows more sex assault survivors to gain the confidence to report the crime.