LOCAL JUDGES seem confused at times about who to blame in assaults against women. We've seen Baltimore County judges on a few occasions show scant sympathy for victims. Now, for the second time in two years, Howard County Circuit Judge James P. Dudley has criticized the victim of a sexual assault before sentencing the real culprit -- the man charged with the offense.
Early last year, Judge Dudley publicly questioned why a 15-year-old girl befriended a 31-year-old man who later sexually assaulted her. Last week, the judge suggested that a 29-year-old woman failed to exercise "reasonable sense" when she did not leave for good the man who beat her while she was pregnant. He eventually raped her in June 1996.
In sentencing Chester Paul Walker Jr., 36, to five years in prison for second-degree rape, the judge said: "These cases always present difficulties for the court. And sometimes the difficulties are created by the parties themselves. [The victim] . . . found it quite tolerable to continue to live without the benefit of matrimony with somebody who beat her up while she was pregnant holding another child. It's not a question of condoning that kind of thing, but people frequently get themselves into a situation where these crimes would never be committed if they exercised some reasonable sense in dealing with the people in the first time they're the victim of crimes. . . This case is the result of [the victim's] failure to exercise reasonable judgment with respect to her previous beating by the same defendant."
Taken aback by the subsequent controversy, Judge Dudley somehow believes he was not blaming the victim. He fails to comprehend the meaning of his own words. He also shows he has much to learn about the financial and emotional dependencies that sometimes trap women in abusive relationships. Cheryl DePetro, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center in Howard County, put the focus where it belonged -- on Walker, not his victim.
If Judge Dudley meant his remarks to be therapeutic, he was wrong. He poured salt on the woman's wounds. He and some of his colleagues have shown the for more education in dealing with female victims who come to court seeking justice.
Pub Date: 12/04/97