Why a teacher guilty of statutory rape gets a 30-day sentence

Laws exist for a reason. However, until yesterday, laws about statutory rape and mandatory minimums didn’t seem to matter to a Montana judge.

This case involves a judge who didn’t adhere to the specifics of laws he is meant to enforce; a girl who killed herself because she was raped by her teacher; and a teacher/offender who failed to complete a sex offender treatment program and still only received a 31 day sentence. You can read specifics of the case here and here.

Let’s take a look at the core of the problem.

The core of the problem is, as I’ve written before, that our society continues to adhere to gender norms that perpetuate sexual violence and fail to hold offenders accountable. Cases like this are a result of a culture where men are expected to act a certain way (as sexual aggressors), and women are expected to respond (as sexual gatekeepers) and, in this case, respond by maintaining sexual purity despite a society that tells them otherwise. For a judge to hand down a 31 day sentence to a teacher who willingly admits to raping his student because  a 14-year-old girl is “older than her chronological age” and “she was ‘as much in control of the situation’ [as the teacher who raped her]” is the perfect example of the harm caused by gender norms.

The judge has apologized for his comments and has ordered a new hearing to review the offender’s sentence. Yet, would either of these things have happened if not for a national uproar? If the facts in this case were any less abhorrent, would the case have caught national attention? It’s hard to say, but one thing is quite clear. The core of the problem is that we still have work to do to change the way we view gender (especially the gender and sexuality of teenage girls) in this society so the next 14-year-old girl who is raped by her schoolteacher isn’t treated the same way this young woman – even after her suicide – was treated. We still have work to do so cases like this don’t cause national attention because they don’t happen in the first place.

We can do better than this – we have to do better.

Cara Courchesne is the communications and outreach coordinator at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She is a native Mainer and has worked for anti-violence nonprofits in Maine since 2007. She may be reached at cara@mecasa.org.

BDN Maine Focus

Are you part of the solution?

We’re looking for Mainers to join our efforts to examine the serious issues facing our state. Share your email and learn more.