Rape apologists don’t belong on the bench | Editorial

Posted Jul 14, 2019

The story was horrific: A 16-year-old boy allegedly led a visibly intoxicated girl into a dark basement during a house party, filmed himself raping her on his phone, and shared it with his friends – bragging, “When your first time is rape.”

But what reverberated most was the judge’s reaction. From a family court bench in Monmouth County, James Troiano urged leniency for the boy, on the grounds that he comes from a “good family who put him in an excellent school.”

From there, it only got worse. Troiano cited this young man’s potential for “not just college, but probably for a good college,” and the victim’s drunkenness, when denying prosecutors’ request to charge him as an adult.

He even glossed over the boy’s own account of what he did, claiming, bizarrely, that this wasn’t violent enough to be “traditional” rape. “The alleged victim here – and I call her the alleged victim,” Troiano said, should have considered “the devastating effect” that pressing adult charges would have on this boy’s life.

His comments reflect a total misunderstanding of sexual assault and appeared to favor this boy based on his social status in a way that was gross. Troiano has been rebuked by an appellate court and widely denounced, but that isn’t enough: He should step down or be removed from the bench.

His words shock the conscience and could discourage more victims from coming forward. It fits a depressing pattern of disregarding victims, as we saw with Jeffrey Epstein, the predator whose cushy plea deal was brokered by Alexander Acosta, who just resigned from the Trump administration.

For too long, our criminal justice system has been overly willing to show leniency to perpetrators, especially if they are powerful, privileged or white: Judges see their “potential,” rather than the perspective of their victims.

The #MeToo movement is helping to change that. Yet victims who don’t have scores of other women to back them up still often see their cases downplayed or ignored. As protestors chanted last week, “What about her?”

Two other New Jersey judges who made similarly appalling comments should also be tossed off the bench. Middlesex County Judge Marcia Silva was chastised by an appellate court for questioning whether a bleeding 12-year-old rape victim’s loss of virginity constituted an “especially serious harm.” The answer: Seriously?

And in Ocean County, Judge John Russo asked a woman seeking a restraining order against a man she accused of rape if she knew how to “stop somebody from having intercourse with you” -- then supplied advice: “Block your body parts,” he said. "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”

We can’t write this off as just a couple of out-of-touch men who’ve been on the bench too long when Silva -- a young female judge -- also waxes ignorant. It suggests a need to improve training for all judges, as Senator Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) is proposing.

But you can’t legislate or train away every idiot, which is why courts need to police themselves better by punishing and removing offenders who trivialize these crimes. If you don’t get it, get out: Victims have been abused and ignored for too long.

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