It was, to say the least, a startling defense of sexual assault, especially coming from the bench. Declaring that a 15-year-old boy who had joined in attacking a 16-year-old girl was reacting “normally” to community standards, County Judge Archie Simonson of Madison, Wis. let him off with a minimum sentence.
In no time Simonson’s contention provoked outrage. Women picketed the Dane County Courthouse, and petitions demanded his recall. “Regardless of community standards,” chimed in Madison’s liberal Mayor Paul Soglin, “under no conditions can a sexual assault or rape be considered normal.”
The 52-year-old Simonson, father of three grown daughters, insists he is not condoning rape. “I’d be an idiot,” he says. But he clings to the notion that women invite attack by dressing provocatively. “My gosh, even in court they appear in see-through blouses without bras,” he marvels. “You can see their nipples!”
Since the case involves juveniles, the judge is barred from discussing the details. “But it wasn’t a rape where a gal is ravished by three guys,” he says. “It was minimum foreplay.” Of the three involved, one, 15, agreed to turn state’s evidence. His case was dismissed. Another, 14, was sentenced to a year in a Milwaukee juvenile treatment center. The other 15-year-old had no court record and was released to his family under judicial supervision.
“The judge almost couldn’t have made any other decision, since it was the one recommended by two doctors, the department of public services, and even in basic terms by the assistant district attorney herself,” maintains defense lawyer Jerry Hancock. But Simonson’s ruling—and his gratuitous rationale—could hardly have been more provocative to Madison residents, already edgy from a series of downtown rapes and assaults. The case also tested the city’s racial tolerance, since the victim is white and her assailants are black. “I’ve struck a raw nerve,” admits Judge Simonson, “but women are sex objects. God did that; I didn’t.”