Take Two #42: The Case of Savannah Dietrich
Yes, I've given in and am adding my name to the thousands of people sticking their noses into the (Kentucky) Savannah Dietrich sexual assault case. For those who don't know what's going on, here's my quick rundown, stripping away as much of the he-said-she-said as I can.
17 year-old Savannah Dietrich drank too much of her own volition and passed out while at a high school house party. She reported that her clothes were shifted funny when she woke up but that she had no memory of anything happening. Later a friend told her that two boys had undressed her and at least one of them had taken a photo. According to Dietrich, she has witnesses who say they then saw this photo/these photos on other people's phones as well, meaning that the boys disseminated the image.
After being rebuffed by the two boys in question when she tried to ask them what happened, Dietrich went to the police. The two boys pled guilty to first-degree (felony) sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism in exchange for an as of yet not-publicly-known deal. All records pertaining to this case are confidential because the two boys are still minors. All parties involved, including Dietrich, were consequently bid not to disclose details of the case, including anything that could identify these two boys.
This is where things got messy... or messier I suppose.
Dietrich, feeling that the boys were given too lenient of a deal (again, we still don't know what this deal is), tossed law to the wind and tweeted the names of the two boys and that they had sexually assaulted her. David Mejia, one of the boys' lawyers, filed a contempt motion against Dietrich in response, which put her up against a potential 180 days in jail. Cue the Internet intervention.
Dietrich's plight goes viral, garnering support from all over the world. Mejia drops the motion but kicks off a media sparring match that snowballs into legal mudslinging between himself and Dietrich's attorney, Emily Farrar-Crockett. Now various institutions and individuals are petitioning the courts to release the case records so that we can all finally figure out just what the heck is going on once and for all.
That's the story as it stands now. No conjectures on my part, just the facts as they have been presented to the public so far. Got it? Cool. Now we can move on to the fun part.
As a woman, my instinct is to support Dietrich no questions asked. By American social standards, these boys violated her mind, body and heart. According to Kentucky law, first-degree sexual abuse as it most likely applies to this case is when a person subjects another individual “to sexual contact who is incapable of consent.” Like I said: mind, body and heart.
Yes, she was dumb. Yes, she was drinking underage. But it takes more than a dumb mistake to turn someone into a victim. If we held everyone accountable for every dumb mistake they'd made... well, the world would be a very different place now, wouldn't it? Before anyone calls me out on this one, let me interject. No, the boys didn't just make a dumb mistake, they made a criminal one.
However, this isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not she should have continued to play nice with the court's decision. I'm torn. She did knowingly break the law, but I can't say that I wouldn't have done something similar. It's true that we don't know how the boys are being punished, but let's put it this way, according to Mejia, Dietrich's tweet forced the boys to change schools and is ruining their lives and reputations. So their previously standing punishment couldn't have been all that severe.
The worst comments weren't actually made by Dietrich. It was the Internet's rallying cry that really did the boys in – whether they deserved it or not. It was unassociated people on the Internet, including several supposedly 'professionally-affiliated' writers, who really built and nailed that coffin, repeatedly incorrectly labeling the boys as rapists. If you ask me Mejia shouldn't be going after Dietrich, he should be going after those idiots online who couldn't be bothered to do their research, especially the 'professionals.'
For this, having myself been on the receiving end of online slander before, I do actually feel bad for the boys. Part of me wonders if they're being driven to learn their lesson or just 'learning' that women are vindictive and volatile, unworthy of respect. In being so eager to vilify these boys, have we actually done anything but hurt our own cause?