By Emma Campbell
Elm Staff Writer
In Kansas, Leavenworth County District Judge Michael Gibbens has found that two girls aged 13 and 14 are partly to blame in the sexual assault case against 67-year-old Raymond Soden. Kansas sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 13 years in sexual assault cases. Soden only recieved five years and 10 months.
“The victims in this case, in particular, were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” Gibbens said, according to BBC News. A child rights group is pushing for an appeal, insisting that the girls are, above all, victims of a heinous sex crime.
Soden solicited the girls on Facebook for nude photographs and sexual favors in exchange for money. Gibbens maintains that because the teenagers “offered what [they] offered for money,” they are partly guilty of the crime Soden is being imprisoned for. The girls also travelled to Soden’s house to carry out Soden’s requests, which Gibbens says took personal agency.
Judge Gibbens’ actions are representative of a much larger problem. His claim that the girls were aggressors (or even participants) rather than victims models the disturbing refusal of many to acknowledge that when it comes to sex crimes, the only person to blame is the perpetrator. Gibbens’s decision to assign partial blame to a pair of children is abhorrent, regardless of whether or not they consented to Soden’s proposals.
“These girls are minors, and are the victims, not the aggressors. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. 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,” Michelle Herman said. She is the president and CEO of Sunflower House, a child advocacy center that has been vocally in opposition of Gibbens’ decision.
Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson told the Washington Post that his office is reviewing the case for appeal. Kansas sentencing guidelines are so strict that if a judge wishes to raise or lower a sentence, he or she must have a compelling reason for doing so. Thompson says that Gibbens did not have a substantial reason to reduce Soden’s sentence.
In an editorial piece, The Kansas Star said, “if Gibbens believes that child sex abuse victims are somehow aggressors, he doesn’t belong on the bench.” Any public servant who berates or punishes a victim of sexual assault deserves to be removed from their position. Judge Gibbens is a prime example of someone who has no business being a member of the justice system.