Judges meting out unusual sentences became something of a sensation in 2015, when Ohio judge Michael Cicconetti's penchant for offering convicted criminals unique alternatives to jail went viral. Now, a Hawaii judge is garnering similar attention for ordering a man to write 144 compliments about his ex-girlfriend after he violated a no contact order. Unfortunately, this does nothing for the victim of his harassment.
Judge Rhonda Loo, who presides over a Second Circuit court on Maui, sentenced 30-year-old Daren Young for violating a no-contact order from his ex-girlfriend by "texting, calling and attempting to call her 144 times," reported the Maui News. The incident occurred over a period of about three hours on May 22, and Young was arrested shortly after. He spent 157 days in jail waiting for his court date, and on Oct. 27, pleaded no contest to 16 counts of violating an order for protection. At his sentencing, Loo credited him for time served and put him on probation for two years. Deputy Public Defender Zach Raidmae told the News that "[a]fter spending 157 days in jail, Young had gotten the message."
Loo wasn't done with Young, though. Along with ordering him to pay $2,400 in fines and serve 200 hours of community service, Loo laid down what's clearly intended to be an unconventional method of making amends: Young has to write 144 complimentary things about his ex within 144 days. "For every nasty thing you said about her, you’re going to say a nice thing," Loo said at the sentencing, Maui News reported. "No repeating words."
Young's sentence is certainly going to force him to engage with the fact that he committed a crime, but in a culture where victims of sexual assault and harassment are often mistreated by U.S. courts, it's hard not to ask how, exactly, this sentence constitutes justice for the victim.
The fact that this woman (who was not named by the News), who has had a no-contact order against Young since February 2017, will have to know he's spending "punishment" time thinking about her, is horrifying on a base level, even though she won't ultimately receive the "compliments," as the no contact order is still in place. A commenter on the News article laid it out, saying, "For the ex-girlfriend, it's actually a continuation of the abuse to have to go through the knowledge that this guy will be having and writing down court-ordered fantasies about her for the next four months."
Kristen Salaky, a writer for Insider, had a similar comment, saying, "It's important to note that nowhere in the punishment does it say that these compliments will be given to this woman. In fact, the protection order still stands, and Young has agreed that he will not contact her again. But as someone who's a survivor of abuse and dating violence, I wouldn't want to know that my ex was thinking about me, even in a good light — especially enough to have to write 144 compliments about me."
And then there are the statements from Loo and Raidmae about Young's behavior. "I don’t know whether I should cut off your fingers or take away your phone to get you to stop texting," Loo told Young, according to the News. "You probably shouldn’t get a phone, period. I hope she changed her number." Raidmae told the News, "The reality of this case is no texts, no problem. He’s experienced the sting of not abiding by this."
It was hard not to ask what Young's sentence is doing for his victim. But it's impossible to look at those two statements and not see the glaring issues. Loo, despite her "creative" sentence, places the onus on his victim to keep him from further contacting her. The statement implies that if he's able to contact her again, it will be because she didn't change her number.
Raidmae's statement — "No texts, no problem" — is even more enraging. Though the details of what made Young's victim seek an order of protection, and have it granted, weren't made public, it's likely that "nasty" texts weren't the end of it. To distill Young's actions down to "no texts, no problem," indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of the kinds of relationship dynamics that lead to protective orders, how common they are, and how quickly things can escalate from "nasty" text messages.
As Salaky pointed out in a tweet, there are numerous "cute" takes on this story, none of which will be named and shamed here for the lack of desire to give them clicks. But it needs to be said: This story is not cute. What is happening to this woman is not worthy of "awws." As someone who also survived an abusive relationship, I spent a long time genuinely sick to my stomach knowing my ex was even capable of thinking about me at all; I can't imagine knowing for a fact that they were court-ordered to do so. Trust me: One hundred and forty-four compliments is not a creative solution. It's a nightmare.