You may have heard about a girl named Savannah Dietrich in recent months. If you haven’t, the Kentucky teen made headlines for publicly tweeting her rapists names on Twitter after they received a lenient plea deal. Dietrich had been told not to speak about the case (it was being tried in juvenile court so there was a gag order placed on the trial) but after hearing the deal she took to Twitter to say “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell…They said I can’t talk about it or I’ll be locked up. So I’m waiting for them to read this and lock me up. F**k justice. Protect rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville.” Dietrich’s tweets spread like wildfire and it wasn’t long before her attackers’ lawyer was trying to send her to jail for violating their agreement, all because she had named the people who had already plead guilty to assaulting her.
In an age where social networking has made it pretty easy to casually find out personal details about someone’s life with a just a quick query in a search engine, it’s not surprising that these lawyers were infuriated. Any future employer, college admissions person, professor, etc. could look up the names of these young men and see what Savannah wrote about them as well as the subsequent news coverage. For many victims though, that’s the point. More and more there seem to be people seeking justice against their attackers outside the court system. Two years ago, an American University student made headlines after she posted the names of two rapists on her Facebook status. On the micro-blogging site Tumblr, I have seen many posts come through my feed with information about a victim’s attacker including pictures, Facebook profiles, contact information, and more. Not everyone has the option or wants to pursue criminal charges against their rapists. Some people may have attempted to pursue charges only to see them dropped without so much as a wrist slap to their attackers. In many victims’ eyes, publicly outing their attackers on social media is another way of pursuing justice. Like Savannah, these individuals want it known what these people have done to them not only as a way to punish them, but to warn other people and try to prevent them from being victimized by the same people. They are not afraid to come forward with their stories if it means that others might be spared from being the next victim.
Some people may feel that what these individuals are doing is wrong, since many of these alleged attackers have not been formally charged or their cases have been dropped. While I can neither condone nor condemn these actions, I think it’s important to consider the statistical facts about sexual assault reporting and sentencing before criticizing victims or defending their alleged attackers. First of all, most people who say they have been assaulted are telling the truth. The percentage of sexual assault reports that turn out to be false is estimated to be between 2% and 6%. Second, a large majority of people do not report their assault for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation from their attacker, fear of not being believed, as well as shame and depression over what has happened. Finally, only 3% of rapists even spend a single day in jail. That means most perpetrators get off the hook in a big way.
If you were a victim of sexual assault and your attacker wasn’t even sent to jail, how do you think you would feel? When our legal system continues to fail victims of sexual assault over and over again, it’s easy to understand why so many become frustrated and take matters into their own hands. While it’s not the most politically correct way to deal with the issue is it fair to ask people like Savannah, whose assault was publicly shared through pictures sent to her peers, to remain silent when their attackers receive barely any punishment? Clearly the way that we deal with sexual assault cases in the legal system is flawed, and at the very least these victims are helping to point that out in a big way.
What do you think about this phenomenon? Share your comments below.