In December, a Kansas judge dialed back sentencing for a man convicted of soliciting teen girls for sex, pointing a proverbial finger at the young victims while he delivered his decision. Leavenworth County District Judge Michael Gibbens said two teen girls were "aggressors" in the situation, which was one of the reasons he was inclined to go easier on 67-year-old Raymond Soden, according to courtroom transcripts reported on by The Kansas City Star.
As part of his plea, according to the Associated Press, Soden reportedly admit to knowing that one of the girls in question was only 13 years old. (The elder was 14.)
“I do find that the victims in this case, in particular, were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” Gibbens said at Soden's sentencing, according to the Star. “They were certainly selling things monetarily that it’s against the law for even an adult to sell.”
Judge Gibbens reportedly pointed to the fact that the teen girls had voluntarily gone to Soden's house and performed sexual acts in return for payment. He also reportedly questioned how much trauma the girls could have actually experienced if they willingly put themselves in such a situation, per the Star.
“And so she’s uncomfortable for something she voluntarily went to, voluntarily took her top off of, and was paid for?” Judge Gibbens reportedly asked prosecutors.
“Yes, judge. She was also a 13-year-old who under our laws can’t consent to anything,” said Deputy County Attorney Joan Lowdon, who was prosecuting the case.
Gibbens reportedly responded that he understood the point, but added, “I wonder what kind of trauma there really was to this victim under those peculiar circumstance."
Victims rights advocates have vociferously disagreed with Gibbens' reasoning. “These girls are minors, and are the victims, not the aggressors,” Michelle Herman, president and CEO of Sunflower House, told the Star. (Sunflower House is a Kansas-based advocacy group whose mission, per its website, "is to protect children in our community from physical and sexual abuse through education, advocacy, forensic, medical and therapeutic services.")
“Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault," Herman said. "It doesn’t matter what the girls did or didn’t do, he is still the adult and nobody deserves to be taken advantage of sexually.”
Before details about the sentencing hearing were made public, the Star had reported that Soden solicited the young girls via Facebook. He reportedly offered to give them payment in return for both nude photos and sexual favors. He pleaded no contest last August.
Prosecution had asked for Soden to be sentenced to more than 13 years in prison, according to the Star; defense had asked only for probation. Gibbens ultimately sentenced Soden to five years and 10 months behind bars.
Prosecutors are currently researching an appeal, according to ABC News. However, they have reportedly not decided whether or not they will pursue one.
“We must always fight to protect our children," Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said in an earlier statement, according to the Star. "The justice system is our last stand in protecting and keeping them safe."