US judge apologises over rape victim comments

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A US judge has apologised after saying a 14-year-old rape victim was "as much in control of the situation" as her attacker and jailing him for only a month.

Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced teacher Stacey Rambold to 15 years in prison after he admitted raping Cherice Moralez, who later committed suicide. But he suspended all but 31 days of the sentence.

In passing sentence on Monday after his conviction for sexual intercourse without consent, the judge said Moralez was "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher.

"I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," Baugh told the Billings Gazette, in the rural state of Montana, on Wednesday.

"It was just stupid and wrong." Billings School District Superintendent Terry Bouck said he did not agree with the sentence, which also gave Rambold credit for one day he had already spent behind bars.

"What Mr Rambold did when he was teacher was repugnant and inexcusable," Bouck said.

"While I respect our court system, I disagree with the sentence, and I believe Mr Rambold deserves to spend more time in jail than 30 days."

The teenage victim's mother, Auliea Hanlon, also issued a statement after attending the sentencing hearing, expressing "disbelief" at the judge's comments and decision.

"I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14," she was quoted as saying by the local newspaper.

Moralez killed herself at the age of 17. Her mother said she believed the rape contributed to her decision to commit suicide.

Prosecutors are reviewing the sentence, which relied on a state law giving judges discretion in sentencing defendants convicted of sex with minors.

"I think the outcome could have been very different if the judge didn't have the freedom to make those choices," said Marian Bradley, head of Montana's National Organisation for Women, cited by the Los Angeles Times.

A number of online petitions have sprung up protesting the decision, and a demonstration was planned for Thursday, according to the Billings Gazette.