A lot has been written about Savannah Dietrich, the 17 year old girl who almost faced jail time for tweeting the names of her rapists. After her story went viral, the prosecutor decided not to file charges against Dietrich for violating a judge’s order to stay quiet about her case. Guilt was well proven – both boys had plead guilty, and had taken pictures of themselves assaulting Dietrich which they then showed to others. But in a stunning twist of ironic cruelty, the court system awarded a high level of privacy to the rapists who had not only violated Dietrich but then publicized it afterward.
While Dietrich’s initial action of tweeting their names appears to come from a place of hurt, anger, and frustration, her later interview showed a determined young woman who wants to right some of the unfairness that can happen to survivors when they go through the legal system. Reactions to Dietrich have taken a wide range of viewpoints, and I want to give some props to some of what has been said already.
Jessica Valenti, on re-directing shame towards the perpetrators rather than the survivors, on The Nation.
Amanda Hess, on the ability for survivors to become the “the editor of her own story” and changing the way we talk about sexual assault in America, on Slate.
Zerlina, on how reducing isolation can help other heal, on Feministing.
And my favorite, Cara from the Curvature, who criticized some of the non-profits and spokespeople who said Dietrich should have asked the court to vacate the order instead of circumventing it. The author discusses how problems with how sexual assaults are reported and handled in the criminal justice system stem from patriarchy, and we should be forcing those institutions to change rather than survivors to comply.
I loved Dietrich’s defiance and her anger. Women are still criticized or dismissed for coming off angry, but sometimes we need that explosion to break through. Whether the judge’s gag order was constitutional or not, Dietrich did what so many other women, myself included, wanted to do while going through the legal system – say Fuck You. And get some attention and generate energy for change while saying it.
Dietrich in my mind did two new things in public that could change the way we discuss sexual assault. She claimed her right not to be raped, drinking be damned, loud and proud. She has that right. We all do. But so many women still place blame on themselves. She is young and unapologetic. We need that.
And she went nuclear with her anger. No polite, practiced statement talking about our communal social ills. Instead, Dietrich gave a raw, angry counter attack on the privacy of the two jerks that took hers away. We need some of that in feminism. SlutWalk had some of that energy too, but the message was not something everyone could get behind. A brave woman taking a stand against an unfair court ruling is righteous anger, and I haven’t read anything that dismisses the legitimacy of her actions – just whether or not it was legal.
I am disappointed that I can’t find the attackers’ names after 15 minutes of searching. Despite supporting Dietrich, many media sources are still not naming the attackers, probably because they are minors. I sincerely hope one of the big papers that has the money to get sued does it. That said, the boys on the bus taunting Karen Klein got a far more public shaming than these two boys ever will and that doesn’t seem fair. To be shamed in their own community doesn’t seem to be enough, since they were bragging about what they did in the first place.
The legal system is only set up to protect perfect victims (from old patriarchal fairy tales), and even then the system often falls short. Going through court proceedings or reporting an assault can be a form of brutal hazing. Survivors feel powerless to challenge the system, especially when they’re trying to win. Dietrich gave a shot across the bow. With a cannon. And I hope other women start doing the same.
Image credit A1Social.