Girl, 11, is made a victim a second time, thanks to Montgomery judge's remarks

January 09, 2000|By MICHAEL OLESKER

SOMEWHERE IN Montgomery County is Judge Durke Thompson, ducking for any available cover because of sex. Last week, he sentenced a 23-year-old man for meeting a young lady at her parents' home, where they were caught without clothing. Before sending the man off to 18 months in jail, Judge Thompson decided to criticize the young lady as well. She is 11.

Once, we imagined 11-year-old girls were sweet and vulnerable. Now, Judge Thompson sees this 11-year old as cunning and culpable. Once, we imagined little girls were naive about sex. This was before the Internet. There is a connection, but not necessarily the one Judge Thompson envisions.

This 11-year-old girl met a man named Vladimir Chacon-Bonilla in an Internet chat room, and soon began chatting about sex. The man, an ex-Marine separated from his wife, arranged to meet the girl.

Once, according to testimony, he met her outside a shopping center for brief sexual play. He did not think she was 11. He only thought she was willing. Later she invited him to her parents' home. When they disrobed, smoking and drinking, he still did not imagine she was 11, he says. He thought she was older, right up to the moment the girl's mother walked into the room and discovered them.

In court last week, the girl's father, an immigrant from Latin America, said his daughter was an A student and an obedient child.

"I fought so hard to raise my family properly," the father said. "I fought the communists. Now my life is ruined. My wife has to sleep in my daughter's bedroom, and she is not sleeping in my bed. My life is ruined. I have to sleep downstairs for fear of him coming into my house."

To this, Judge Thompson remarked, "I want to say to the family, this has been intrusive and harmful, but it has not wrecked the family life. [This is] just inviting unhappiness. The message should be: `We have learned a great deal from this.' "

Those now attacking the judge for insensitivity -- including legislators, child advocates and feminists -- have largely overlooked the above remark. The great offensive words arrive in a moment.

In court, the father said his 11-year-old daughter "is not a person above her years. This man is a predator who has attacked my child and ruined her for life."

To this, Judge Thompson said, "I don't think the victim is free of fault. I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here."

And this is why, today, Judge Thompson is ducking for any available cover.

The girl, said the judge, gave the young man "some invitation" into her home.

Apparently, she gave considerable invitation -- but so what?

That she gave invitation is reinforced by Chacon-Bonilla's defense attorney, Rebecca Nitkin, who has been telling anyone who will listen about what she calls lascivious conversations the 11-year-old had with her client. The conversations were about detailed sex, Nitkin says, and her client never imagined the girl was age 11 -- even after he met her.

Oh, yeah?

How old did he think she was?

Twelve?

Thirteen?

Would either of those ages justify having sex with her?

Fourteen?

Fifteen?

Would those ages have been acceptable?

And would those have been acceptable ages for Judge Thompson's remarks? Catching flak -- from legislators and child advocates, among others -- for criticizing the 11-year-old, Thompson issued a statement at week's end, in which he seems to miss the point.

He defends the 18-month jail sentence he gave the defendant. He complains that the Montgomery County state's attorney, Douglas F. Gansler, made incorrect remarks about the case in public.

And he says his "two to tango" remark was misunderstood.

He meant to differentiate it from "a situation where there was a home invasion."

Well, OK. But all of this still sidesteps the overwhelming thrust of public anger toward the judge. It's about a child. Today, children are susceptible to all sorts of sexual messages never previously imagined: Internet chat rooms, cable TV channels, and musical lyrics that are heard but not understood.

Here was an 11-year-old who had seen too much, and heard too much, and imagined she understood more than she did. But somewhere, a line has to be drawn for the child. When a grown man sees an 11-year-old, he may imagine she's a little older -- and that's the oldest defense of every sexual predator -- but he surely can tell the difference between an 11-year-old girl and a sexually legal woman.

And a judge has to draw lines, too. However foolish the girl was to bring this man into her parents' home, she was clearly too young to understand all the consequences. She's a child taken advantage of by an adult.

And now, because of intemperate public remarks by Judge Thompson, she's been victimized again.

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