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this girl was sexually assaulted (and may be imprisoned for tweeting about it)

Pictured is Savannah Dietrich, a 17 year old from Kentucky in the United States.  Like many teenagers are likely to do, she went to a party and drank.  She passed out. Two of her peers then proceeded to sexually assault her.

Months after the assault, Dietrich learnt the pair had been circulating photos of the event online.  She pressed charges, and the pair plead guilty and received a plea agreement – an arrangement Dietrich was not aware of until it was announced in court. She was told she was legally unable to publically announce the names of her attackers.

Angry at what she felt was an unfair and unjust punishment, Dietrich took to Twitter and named the two boys. She followed it with a disclaimer:  ‘There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone who made my life a living Hell’.

I’m still flabbergasted at why she was told not to name her attackers, and have been mentally applauding Dietrich all day for her bravery.

Here are some statistics* for you :

One out of six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape

Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted

54% of sexual assaults are not reported

97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail

Chances are, if you’re a woman over the age of 25 and haven’t been sexually assaulted, you know someone close to you who has. Chances are if you haven’t been the one crying all night, you’ve been the one holding the girl who has. Chances are, you know it’s never over.

I know here at Lip I’m preaching to the choir – but we still live in a world where we teach don’t get raped rather than don’t rape. There’s a reason why 54% of sexual assaults aren’t reported and I’m going to hedge a bet in reality that the actual figure is far larger. Victims of sexual assault are still made to feel like it’s their fault and that they could have done something to prevent it.  Many victims are already so traumatised that the thought of what they will go through if they press charges is far too overwhelming.

Dietrich was incredibly brave for coming forward to the police. And then, the power she was trying to reclaim was taken away from her. So she took it back. And she should have every right to do so. She shouldn’t have to protect her attackers. If she wants to take a Times Square Billboard and write her attackers names in neon pink lights, she should be allowed to, and she should be able to invoice them for the cost.

I’m sure because of the society we live in, someone will say along the lines of the following: ‘Oh, they were drunk teenage boys, they weren’t thinking clearly. Things got out of control. Their lives shouldn’t be ruined by this one mistake’.  That boys-will-be-boys defense is ridiculously insulting. They were old enough to understand what they were doing was wrong, and if they didn’t, it displays a psychotic lack of empathy that has nothing to do with age. Furthermore, they sent around photos of the incident. That doesn’t really align well with a ‘caught in the moment and regretted it immediately after’ defense.

Dietrich was violated when the boys assaulted her, and she was violated again when they showed the photographs to her peers, and she’ll carry that experience with her for the rest of her life, along with the knowledge that the images could resurface at any time throughout her life.

Shouldn’t her attackers also carry the experience with them throughout theirs? If a prospective college, employer or girlfriend does a quick Google search on them, shouldn’t they be accountable to explain their actions?  They were once proud enough to show the images of what they did to Dietrich to their peers, so why is she being silenced for their protection?

In a society where policemen tell girls they shouldn’t dress like a slut if they don’t want to be raped, Dietrich should be applauded. Hell, she should be thrown a parade.  But since a parade might be tricky to arrange, what we can do for her is to sign one of the change.org petitions that have been created in her defense. And to let her know – just in case she’s googling the coverage – that we think she’s the epitome of strength and pretty much a rock star.

*As this case is based in the USA, so too are the figures, taken from the RAINN network.

 (Image credit)

EDIT: Contempt charges against Dietrich have since been withdrawn  

11 thoughts on “this girl was sexually assaulted (and may be imprisoned for tweeting about it)

  1. She probably couldn’t name them either because the attackers were minors and/or because the deal was put out there to entice them to plead guilty, which means that less public funds would be tied up in the case (since nobody has to go through the evidence and getting a jury, etc.). To be honest, I don’t see the heroism in naming them, even though did a really vile thing. I don’t know if the attackers were jailed, etc., I assume they were punished. The point is, it’s not up to one person to decide who should be named. I think it’s horrible that she wasn’t aware of the deal until it was announced in court though.

    • I think Erin’s comment is the most nuanced and considered on the subject.

      With a story like this, there’s an obvious desire within the media to present it in the frame of “woman is raped and is punished for it, rapists get off scott-free” because it’s a powerful and emotive idea. The ubiquity of this framing is that it can be used as a metaphor for what *is* a serious problem in contemporary society – that women are sometimes blamed when they should be sympathised with (which is largely the point of this article) – but, in a situation like this where there’s a lack of clarity about the legal context and the extent of punishment towards the perpetrators (remember, they plead guilty), it’s somewhat disingenuous to use this incident to prove a point about rapes that go unpunished and victim-shaming etc.

      Let me stress, these problems *do* exist in society and they *do* need to be addressed, but I’m sure one could find clearer examples with which to show it.

  2. Any chance you could let us know if the sexual assult was rape or somthing not as serious? Because the courts decision would make a lot more sence in one case than the other.

    And speaking as a man, myself and none of my friends would ever say ‘boys will be boys’ in a case like that. Perhaps thats why none of my friends take advantage of passed out women.

    Something she could have done without nameing names is tweet/ facebook all the guys friends who were at the party and ask why they didn’t stop her from being assulted. Ask them in a nice public forum, where their mums, sisters, gf’s, bosses etc can see. And it has the benifit of being legal and gossip will spread the names of the criminals.

  3. “Rape or something less serious”?
    I just want to politely inform you that all assault is assault and serious. Not matter if she was penetrated or not, all assault is RAPE. She now has to live with the memory of what these assholes did to her. And on top of that women already continually silenced when it comes to the matter of sexual assault. In this case she was legally silenced. We have pressure not to talk about it, not to call out our perpetrators, do downplay the incident. And now there could have been women who will be close friends and intimate partners with these boys who will never know their past and present histories of assaulting and humiliating women and girls.
    This is outrageous, saddening and disgusting and i need to find a way to sublimate my rage.

    My rage and sadness over this event is so intense

    • Well I do think it matters. Technically pushing someone is assult as is beating someone into a coma. You have to have diffrent names and definitions so that people can be seriously punished when required. If she was raped by two men while unconsious then they should be in prison for 20 odd years each. If they stripped her and took photos then they should be punished, definatly, but not to the same extent. Its hard to really be critical of the sentance with out knowing the reasons behind it.

      I think the guys are scum, don’t get me wrong. But there are people who can rehabilitated and people who need to be removed from society. I’d like to know which sort these guys are.

      On a slightly diffrent note, one of my best female friends was raped at 12 and then 17 by two diffrent men (step-father then best friend) and both of them got off (for atrotious reasons I won’t repeat because its not my place to). The worst that has happen to me was a girl I had to push away a few times because she had decided I was single, drunk and male and there for up for it. I don’t put those in the same catagory, not even close. To say that a sexual assult (which after I showed my disinclination and further kisses techically were) was rape is to take away the seriousness of rape from people such as my friend.

      • Yes i can mostly agree with what you have said. However, being sexually assaulted and filmed while passed out to me is rape. It may or may not be for Savannah but that is for her to decide, not the courts.
        And is in no way like recieving unwanted kisses.

        • In response to a previous question about what the severity of the assault placed on Savannah was, those details have not been released. Suffice to say it was damaging enough to be bought before the courts. I don’t think the point here has to do with the extent of what happened to her, that shouldn’t be relevant.

          The point is the courts took the control away from Savannah. They didn’t involve her in the plea agreement and then they imposed a restriction on her. They silenced a victim in order to protect her attackers and that is incredibly unjust.

          • The point is that the details haven’t been released so you don’t actually *know* that a victim has been silenced in order to “protect” her attackers. You’re absolutely right to express outrage that she wasn’t kept in the loop about the nature of the plea agreement – that much we do know – but do you really have enough facts to be able to advocate a legal precedent where one can essentially make unilateral decisions in that manner? I mean, maybe you are right, maybe there should be such a precedent, but I’d like to hear legal arguments for and against the idea first rather then base it on a single incident with little detail, because what if, in completely different scenarios, this precedent would result in unjust legal outcomes? As things stand, I’m inclined to believe that “it’s not up to one person to decide who should be named”.

          • Hi Kristine – this article speaks a little more about the legalities of the case: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/teen-assault-victim-spared-from-charges-over-tweet-20120725-22oio.html

            I do understand where you are coming from with problems regarding precedents. And perhaps I’m being a little idealistic and thinking with my heart more than my head, but I still believe in this particular case – in which the perpetrators had already used social media to share the attack – that one person can make a decision to share the names of their attackers. And that one person is the victim. We’ll have to agree to disagree (the beauty of life, right?) :)

  4. Brave!! That’s what this young lady is. You might see no sign of heroism, why? Because is not your daughter or your niece. I hope this never happens to anyone you loved.

  5. Freya “We’ll have to agree to disagree (the beauty of life, right?)” – Haha yeah of course, and it’s what the Lip comment section is for. :)
    Indeed, I think the debate over the ubiquity of gag orders in juvenile cases relating to sexual assault could make for an interesting Lip article!

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