Kansas Judge Michael Gibbens is facing calls for his resignation after he called two 13- and 14-year-old girls the “aggressor” in a sex crime case.
Gibbens made the comment in the case of 67-year-old Raymond Soden, a repeat sex offender who was convicted of using social media to solicit the girls for sexual acts. Prosecutors said Soden asked the girls for nude photos and sexual favors in exchange for money, The Washington Post reported.
“I do find that the victims in this case are more of an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” said Gibbens, a Leavenworth County district judge. “They were certainly selling things monetarily that’s against the law for even an adult to sell.”
Gibbens went on to sentence Soden to just five years in prison, eight years less than the minimum punishment recommended under the state’s sentencing guidelines.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Prosecutors Agreed to a Plea Deal With the Sex Offender
Raymond Soden, 67, was arrested last year after prosecutors accused him of soliciting sex from minors on Facebook.
Prosecutors said Soden knew the victims through their mother, who cleaned his apartment. He began to contact the girls through Facebook for sexual favors and nude photos in exchange for money.
He was charged with engaging in lewd fondling of a child under 14 and soliciting sex from a child under 14.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the fondling charge and Soden pleaded no contest to the solicitation charge but a judge found him guilty at a hearing.
Soden had two previous convictions, one for battery and one for sexual battery.
2. Judge Michael Gibbens Said He Wondered ‘What Kind of Trauma’ There Was for the Victims
Gibbens appeared to suggest that the girls were culpable in the crime at Soden’s sentencing hearing, The Kansas City Star reported.
“I do find that the victims in this case, in particular, were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” Gibbens said. “They were certainly selling things monetarily that it’s against the law for even an adult to sell.”
Gibbens questioned the prosecutor about a statement the 13-year-old gave saying she was “uncomfortable” after an incident in which Soden touched her.
“And so she’s uncomfortable for something she voluntarily went to, voluntarily took her top off of, and was paid for?” Judge Gibbens asked the prosecutor.
“Yes, judge. She was also a 13-year-old who under our laws can’t consent to anything,” said prosecutor Joan Lowdon.
“I wonder what kind of trauma there really was to this victim under those peculiar circumstances,” Gibbens opined.
“I think that a 13-year-old who offered what she offered for money is certainly an aggressor, particularly since she’s the one that had to travel to Mr. Soden,” the judge said.
“Normally, I would think that the harm that would be done by this kind of conduct would be very, very substantial,” the judge said. “I’m not convinced that that is so in this case.”
3. Gibbens Sentenced Soden to to Less Than Half of Minimum Sentence
Gibbens’ comments came as he sentenced Soden to just five years and 10 months in prison.
The sentence is eight years less than the minimum sentence called for in the state’s sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors argued that based on his criminal history, Soden should be sentenced to 13 years.
The judge said that the fact the girls traveled to his house and the Soden’s age factored into the decision.
The judge also said that the girls’ unwillingness to speak at the sentencing also factored into the decision.
4. Prosecutors Say They May Appeal The Sentence
When prosecutors questioned the judge’s sentence, he told them to take it up on appeal.
Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson told The Kansas City Star that his office is considering appealing the sentence.
“We have looked into filing an appeal, but we have not made a decision,” Thompson said. “We always try to zealously advocate for the victims and community safety in every case we pursue.”
Michelle Herman, president and CEO of Sunflower House, a child advocacy center based in Shawnee, slammed the judge’s comments.
“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,” she said.
5. A Top Local Newspaper Has Called on Gibbens to Resign
The Kansas City Star editorial board called for Gibbens to resign over his comments.
“If Gibbens believes that child sex abuse victims are somehow aggressors, he doesn’t belong on the bench,” the board wrote.
Via The Kansas City Star:
Kansas law allows for sentences to be reduced when “the victim was an aggressor or participant in the criminal conduct.”
But an acceptable definition of “aggressor” cannot possibly include 13- or 14-year-old children in a solicitation case. They are far too young to understand the consequences of having sexual relations with an adult or to give consent, facts the judge should have known.
Soden, the defendant, knew he was soliciting a 13-year-old girl. He knew the conduct was wrong. He had a criminal record. The judge knew all of this yet cut Soden’s sentence because of alleged “aggression” by the victim.
It’s a loophole Kansas lawmakers should close. It isn’t precisely clear how any crime victim could be an “aggressor” in almost any case, but certainly minors abused by adults do not qualify.
“No adult should solicit sex with an underage girl. Such behavior must be punished severely. Gibbens should be disciplined for his decision as well, and the Legislature should adjust sentencing guidelines to prevent another grievous mistake,” the board added.