Last week, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh declared a troubled, now dead, 16-year-old girl culpable for her own rape. (The girl was just 14 when the crime occurred.) While in the process of reducing her rapist’s 15-year sentence to 30 days, he explained that the victim was “older than her chronological age,” and “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year-old teacher found guilty of raping her. After outraged protest and demands that he be removed from the bench, Baugh apologized and has called for a new hearing. This case bears striking similarity to one in the U.K. earlier this summer in which a 13-year-old girl involved was described, including by the judge, as sexually “predatory.”
This happens with dulling regularity, and has for years. One month ago, defense lawyers in Louisiana used similar reasoning in a case involving a juvenile detention guard and a 14-year-oldin his care. They argued that the girl had consented to sex with the guard, though she was three years younger than the age of consent in Louisiana.
The language used in these cases demonstrates our confused notions about girls’ ages and what they mean.
An adolescent girl isn’t allowed to be “her age.” Indeed, she doesn’t actually have one age but many that people assess and judge as she goes through her day. When it comes to sexual assault, consent and justice, an individual girl’s “age” is especially a matter of social construction. Society constructs her age in at least six different ways:
First, there’s her chronological age. This is the easiest one, based on a girl’s birthday. Simple enough.
- 6 Ways We Talk About a Teenage Girl’s Age – 5 of Them Messed Up (alternet.org)
- The painful lesson of the Cherice Moralez rape trial | Hadley Freeman (theguardian.com)
- No resentencing for Montana rapist (bbc.co.uk)
- Mont. judge apologizes for comments in teen’s rape – Boston Herald (bostonherald.com)