Making the world uncomfortable for rapists

Updated
Rape survivor Savannah Dietrich.
Rape survivor Savannah Dietrich.

Savannah Dietrich had too much to drink at a party, and passed out. What she told newspapers happened next was horrific: two boys, both of whom she knew, sexually assaulted her, and took pictures while they were doing it. Then they shared those photographs with others. Fast forward to today, when the 17-year-old Dietrich may be facing jail time before her alleged assailants.

The reason the Kentucky teenager is facing a contempt charge is because she broadcasted the names of her attackers on social media after she learned that they plead guilty to lesser charges of felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism, charges which she considered too lenient per the crime. So she took to Twitter:

“There you go, lock me up,” Savannah Dietrich tweeted, as she named the boys who she said sexually assaulted her. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”

The attorney for the boys, neither of whom have been sentenced, is asking a Jefferson District Court judge to hold her in contempt because, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, they say that in naming her attackers, she violated the confidentiality of a juvenile hearing and the court’s order not to speak of it. The charge carries a 180-day jail sentence and a $500 fine.

(For as much attention as that attorney wants to bring to Dietrich’s violation, it seems that they don’t want this publicized too much; they want the court order continued, barring Dietrich from speaking to the media, and they want to bar the media from covering the contempt hearing they requested.)

Amanda Hess, writing in Slate, specifically addressed the social-media angle of the story. She noted a dramatic step Dietrich took within the last 24 hours:

Last night, Dietrich unlocked her Facebook page to the hundreds of strangers—myself included—who have requested to make her a “friend.” They have flooded her wall with offers of financial support and links to Change.org petitions calling for justice in her case. Of course, Dietrich is also fielding spammy notes from strangers with dogs for avatars (“since they took pictures isn’t this child pornography?”) and all-caps rants about the sex offender registry.

But here, Dietrich is the editor of her own story. She has the power to delete the comments she doesn’t like and promote the ones she does. Thanks to a few brave tweets, a 17-year-old rape victim is now curating an international conversation about sexual assault in America.

Nation blogger and feminist author Jessica Valenti cites Hess while applauding the teenager’s choice in an aptly-named post called “How to Out a Rapist”:

So making the world more uncomfortable for rapists - letting them know that there will be consequences that include public shaming - is something I’m entirely at ease with. Especially considering how often women are silenced around issues of sexual assault…

Something tells me mugging victims have never been ordered not use the word “rob” when recounting the crime committed against them - but when it comes to sexual assault, logic and human decency always seem to go out the window…

Rape survivors know that there’s a world of shame and stigma that awaits them should they speak up. In this kind of environment talking about sexual assault - let alone reporting it - is not just difficult, it’s straight up heroic.

The legal consequences of her actions are one thing; yes, mistakes and false, punitive, and retributive accusations are made. But those don’t discount the surely thousands of accounts which are not only verifiable, but like in Dietrich’s case, have been confessed. I agree with Jessica – the protections for the rapists here seem to outweigh those for the young woman whom they admitted assaulting, and that is intolerable.

Dietrich has said that she welcomes the jail term. “I’m at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it,” she told the Courier-Journal. The newspaper, in the same article, quotes an expert who argues that this kind of social-media outing is “just going to happen more and more.” If they are women in Dietrich’s position, survivors desperately needing someone to listen to their side of the story, perhaps it should.

UPDATE, 4:24pm: The contempt charge against Dietrich has been dropped, per the AP:

David Mejia, an attorney for one of the accused boys, says the motion to hold 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich of Louisville in contempt was withdrawn Monday.

Mejia says the decision had nothing to do with public sentiment in the case, although an online petition campaign had garnered more than 62,000 signatures. He said there’s no need for the motion now that Dietrich spread word about the case over the Internet.

Whether or not it had to do with the petition is one thing. Petitions have been around for a lot longer than social media. Hence, that last sentence is key.

Making the world uncomfortable for rapists

Updated