On Seeming Older Than Your Chronological Age

A judge in Montana, in handing down a meager 30 day sentence to a teacher who raped a 14 year old student who later committed suicide, saying the victim “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher. I do not have a daughter. I am not a mother. I am, however, a grown woman who once seemed older than her chronological age.

I call bullshit.

The victim was a “troubled young girl.” I was one of those, too. In fact, in large part, the reason I seemed “chronologically older” than my age was because I had experienced things that no kid my age should. You grow up real fast. Or, at least, you pretend you do.  Troubled kids seldom seem younger than their age.

At 13, I earned a deep understanding of some very adult concepts, particularly loss, when my mother died while I was visiting my father for the weekend. By 14, I earned myself a swift descent from honor student to habitual truant with a daily drug habit. I nearly caught myself a ticket straight to expulsion a meager 9 weeks into my freshman year at Huntington Beach High School, but an amazing teacher stepped in. Administration said if she wouldn’t take me, I was out. I was facing expulsion for screaming “burn in hell, you stupid f*ing b*tch” to a teacher as I stormed out of her class, ignoring her direction to go to the Supervision office and instead heading home. What teacher in their right mind would have wanted me?

This teacher wanted me. Her name was Mrs. Gruwell and she couldn’t save me, but she bought me a little time. She talked to me after class, she listened to me cry about nothing and everything all at the same time. She didn’t wake me up when I fell asleep in class because, well, I’d been up for days on drugs and she was probably just glad I was safe at school. Some days, I would go to school JUST to see her. She always made time for me. And somehow, maybe because her husband went to high school with my father, my connection to her helped me feel connected to my father who was trying so hard but was constantly shut out by a little girl in a lot of pain. Mrs. Gruwell was an example, a voice of reason; she encouraged and believed in me. She gave me hope.

See, this man had an opportunity to be THAT teacher. Instead, Stacey Dean Rambold chose to rape a young girl. He chose to violate the trust that society had placed in him to educate, to help, to do no harm. At 14 years old, no matter how in control of my situation I felt – or any 14 year old girl feels – she’s not. Period. End of story.  Science says so. The frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

Any high school teacher should be able to tell you that. And a judge, a judge should just fucking know better than to blame rape on a child who isn’t even alive to defend herself.