[Editor’s note: According to Huffington Post, the charges against Savannah Dietrich have been dropped.]
Over the weekend, I read an article on Jezebel about a teen who is facing contempt of court charges for tweeting the names of the boys who sexually assaulted her.
It really pissed me off.
A Louisville teenager could be facing a contempt of court charge that carries a possible 180-day jail sentence and $500 fine after she violated the terms of a plea deal by tweeting the names of the two teenage boys who sexually assaulted her.
Savannah Dietrich, the victim in the case, summed up her feelings to the Courier Journal, and I agree with her.
“I’m at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it,” she said. “If they really feel it’s necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me … as opposed to throwing these boys in jail for what they did to me, then I don’t understand justice.”
Juvenile cases and sexual assault victim cases often have gag orders or confidentiality agreements to protect the victims, which I get, but forcing a rape victim to stay silent about her attack and her attackers is absolute bullshit.
The issue in this case is not that Dietrich told people, but that she tweeted the names of her victims. Gregg Leslie, interim executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Huffington Post “In the past, people would complain to anyone who would listen, but they didn’t have a way to publish their comments where there would be a permanent record, like on Facebook and Twitter, for people to see worldwide.”
This permanent record goes against the principle in this country that crimes committed as a minor (in most cases under 16-18 years old) should be stripped from a person’s record once they reach the age of majority. This principle also allows for avoiding formal charges to protect a minor’s record, depending on the severity of the crime, the accused’s past criminal record and other factors.
The point of all of this is to help offenders who may have done stupid shit in their youth (like we all did) not be haunted by it for the rest of their lives. This is fine for petty theft, drug possession, public nudity and other victimless crimes, but rape follows victims for the rest of their life, why shouldn’t raping someone also follow the attackers for the rest of theirs?
As someone who has been wrongfully accused of sexual assault, I understand how falsified charges can destroy someone’s life. But Dietrich’s attackers were caught on tape. They took pictures of the assault and then showed them to people. Lots of people. Savannah Dietrich was afraid of leaving her home, wondering who saw these photos, knowing that most of her school had. Dietrich’s attackers’ innocence is not under investigation. These guys did it.
There is a permanent record of Dietrich’s attack. Photos of her assault are out there, in cyberspace, forever haunting her. Dietrich’s attackers put those photos out there. They created a permanent record of what happened to her. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to create a permanent record of who did it?
We know Dietrich’s name because she came forward, but how many other names don’t we know? How many stay silenced by the shame and consequences rape victims face? Almost every woman I know has been sexually assaulted in some way, yet I know only a handful who have pressed charges against their attackers and every one of those girls who came forward had a horrific time of it.
Last year, the law student I mentored came forward with another girl and said they were sexually assaulted by the same guy. The backlash against her saddened me to my core. Whether this guy raped them consciously or “simply” took repeated advantage of women so drunk they blacked out, I don’t care. He’s still a guy who’s not to be trusted. He’s still a guy I don’t want my friends around. He’s still a guy I don’t want invited to my parties. He’s a guy whose name I want to know.
Six girls talked to my mentee about having been sexually assaulted by the same guy, but only two were willing to go on the record. When I sent an email out to the listserve about the issue of rape in our law school, I got over 20 responses from women who had at some point been sexually assaulted while there, from judges to attorneys to fellow students. None of them were willing to go public with their assault for fear of facing the backlash my mentee faced. By protecting themselves, they protected their attackers. And by protecting attackers, we allow them permission to do it again.
I’m not blaming the victims for not coming forward, I’ve been sexually assaulted and didn’t press charges, I’m blaming society. We should be encouraging and supporting people to come forward and name their attackers, not ostracizing them.
These boys that attacked Dietrich and this boy that attacked my mentee, and lots of young people who sexually assault others, will go off to college, probably far away to avoid being in communities where they would have to face people who knew about their crimes. They will be at a party again. They will see a girl drunk again. Will they assault her again? Will they take pictures and share them with friends again? We don’t know.
But what I do know is that I’d like to know their names to avoid inviting them to parties. I’d like to know their names to keep them away from my friends. I’d like to know their names to keep away from them period.
I stand with Savannah Dietrich, and every other victim of sexual assault who comes forward, and the right to name your attacker. I stand with them because I want sexual assault to stop and the only want to do that is to talk about it and stand up against it.