Raymond Soden was recently convicted of soliciting two minors for sex. The 67-year-old Leavenworth, Kansas, man pleaded guilty, admitting he was fully aware that he had offered to purchase naked photographs from 13- and 14-year-old girls, as well as to pay them to perform sex acts.
Given Soden’s criminal history, which included convictions for battery and sexual battery, prosecutors asked for a minimum sentence of 13 years of prison — in line with Kansas sentencing guidelines. Instead, District Judge Michael Gibbens sentenced Soden to five years and 10 months in prison — but why?
“I do find that the victims in this case, in particular, were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” Judge Gibbens remarked during sentencing, referring to the two girls solicited by Soden. “They were certainly selling things monetarily that it’s against the law for even an adult to sell,” claimed Gibbens.
Referring to an occasion when one of the minors had had “uncomfortable” physical contact with Soden, Judge Gibbens questioned this characterization:
And so she’s uncomfortable for something she voluntarily went to, voluntarily took her top off of, and was paid for. I wonder what kind of trauma there really was to a victim under those particularly circumstances.
Soden’s attorney argued that giving him 13 years in jail would amount to a death sentence, a factor Judge Gibbens says he considered in his sentencing decision.
Per Kansas law, such a severe departure from state sentencing guidelines requires a demonstration of “substantial and compelling reasons.” Did Gibbens achieve this? Prosecutors are doubtful, and they’re currently exploring the possibility of asking for a sentencing appeal.
The survivors involved were both under 16 — the age of consent in Kansas — and, as such, they were incapable of legally consenting to sex with an adult. An individual of that age lacks the emotional and developmental maturity to make these types of decisions.
Age aside, this sentence demonstrates an all too pervasive tendency to blame the victims of sexual violence — both in the court of public opinion and in actual courts.
Perhaps the most publicized example was the extraordinary sentence given to Cyntoia Brown. Brown was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16 for killing a man in self-defense after he bought her for sex and threatened her life. Though she spent the next 15 years behind bars, last month Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam finally granted Brown clemency. She’s set to be released in August.
Judge Gibben’s decision to hand out a short sentence for Soden is also strikingly similar to the case of Brock Turner. The Stanford athlete was given just six months of jail time after sexually assaulting a woman in 2015, with the judge justifying the light sentence because he did not feel it necessary to unduly punish the privileged young man.
How just is a criminal justice system populated by judges who seem more worried about perpetrators of sexual violence than their victims? Is it truly any wonder why many survivors decline to come forth about their abuse for years — if ever?
Last year Judge Aaron Persky was recalled after his atrocious handling of the Brock Turner sentencing, thanks to a successful voter initiative. But, as this case out of Levenworth, Kansas, shows us, Perksy isn’t the only judge failing in his duty to uphold the law in such instances.
It’s time for District Judge Michael Gibbens to face similar consequences.
Originally published at Care2.com on February 6, 2019.