Teenage Victim of Sexual Assault in Kentucky Faces Charges after Tweeting the Names of Her Attackers

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

(Updated below.)

I think the following story out of Kentucky is an interesting one. Savannah Dietrich, a seventeen-year-old, is the victim of a sexual assault. Last August, she was assaulted by two boys she knew after she passed out at a party. It wasn’t until months later that Dietrich learned that pictures of her assault had been taken and shared with other people.

The victim told a newspaper that she cried herself to sleep for months. She added, “I couldn’t go out in public places. You just sit there and wonder, who saw (the pictures), who knows?”

According to the Courier-Journal, Dietrich felt frustrated by what she thought “was a lenient plea bargain for two teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her and circulating pictures of the incident.” She took to Twitter and named her attackers. She also tweeted, “There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell” and “Protect rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville.”

Dietrich is now facing a possible jail sentence. The attorneys for the boys who pleaded guilty to her assault have asked a Jefferson District Court judge to hold her in contempt for publicly naming her attackers. Dietrich stands accused of violating “the confidentiality of a juvenile hearing and the court’s order not to speak of it.” If charged with contempt, Dietrich could receive a “potential sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.”

Jason Riley of the Courier-Journal wrote: “Legal experts say such cases are becoming more common, in which people are communicating more frequently through social media and violating court orders not to speak.”

Greg Leslie, who is the interim executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Virginia, said, “In the past, people would complain to anyone who would listen, but they didn’t have a way to publish their comments where there would be a permanent record, like on Facebook and Twitter, for people to see worldwide.” He continued, “It’s just going to happen more and more.”

“So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys,” Dietrich told the Courier Journal. “I’m at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it. If they really feel it’s necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me … as opposed to throwing these boys in jail for what they did to me, then I don’t understand justice.”

Dietrich claims that she and her family “were unaware of the plea bargain and recommended sentence until just before it was announced in court — and were upset with what they felt was a slap on the wrist for the attackers.” Dietrich said. “They got off very easy … and they tell me to be quiet, just silencing me at the end.”

Emily Farrar-Crockett, one of Dietrich’s attorneys, said that her client had looked at the laws of confidentiality before she tweeted her comments. Crockett said that Dietrich “tried not to violate what she believed the law to be” by not tweeting about what happened in court or what was in court records.

Greg Leslie said he thinks that Dietrich should “not be legally barred from talking about what happened to her. That’s a wide-ranging restraint on speech. By going to court, you shouldn’t lose the legal right to talk about something.”

Not all legal experts agree with Leslie. Ohio media law specialist David Marburger said that even if the judge might be limiting freedom of speech with an order, “it doesn’t necessarily free you from that order. You have to respect the order and get the judge to vacate the order or get a higher court to restrain the judge from enforcing the order.” And Jo Ann Phillips, head of Kentuckians Voice for Crime Victims, said that she “doesn’t blame Dietrich for standing up for what she felt was an injustice, but said she should have gone about it another way.”

“This (assault) could affect her for the rest of her life and the fact that she said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ you have to applaud her,” Phillips said. “But you also have to respect authority.”

“ … She should have gone to a victims’ group or her local legislator and fought for the right to speak out.”

What do you think? Was Dietrich wrong to name her accusers publicly? Do you think Dietrich has the right to speak out about what happened to her?

UPDATE: The motion to hold 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich of Louisville in contempt was withdrawn on Monday.


Assault victim’s tweets prompt contempt case (Courier-Journal)

Savannah Dietrich, 17-Year-Old Sexual Assault Victim, Faces Charge For Naming Attackers (Huffington Post/AP)

157 thoughts on “Teenage Victim of Sexual Assault in Kentucky Faces Charges after Tweeting the Names of Her Attackers”

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  2. News Alert
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    Full coverage: http://stream.wsj.com/story/2012-storm-season/SS-2-48537/?mod=djemalertNEWS
    Hope you all make it out okay.

  3. Judge sets date for motion on removing county attorney from Savannah Dietrich case
    12:08 PM, Jul 30, 2012

    A District Court judge has scheduled a Friday hearing on a motion to remove the Jefferson County attorney’s office from the case of two teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich.

    Dietrich attorney Thomas Clay said previously that he couldn’t get into specifics of why he is making the request because of Juvenile Court confidentiality rules.

    Judge Dee McDonald also ruled in an order Monday that The Courier-Journal will be allowed to review the sexual assault case files as long as Dietrich and both the two juvenile defendants have no objection to the motion.

    However, if either side objects, McDonald ordered that a hearing date be scheduled, sometime before the boys are supposed to be sentenced on Aug. 21.

    Dietrich and her family have been attempting to get the files opened, saying the county attorney’s office offered the two defendants a lenient plea bargain on charges of first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and misdemeanor voyeurism. Dietrich and her family say they were unaware of the deal and recommended sentence until just before it was announced in court.

    Dietrich and her attorneys as well as The Courier-Journal have also been trying to free Dietrich, or anyone involved with the case, to talk about specifics that are currently kept confidential by juvenile court rules.

  4. Huh? (I was referring to the tweet “Ruining two kids lives won’t make you popular” maybe I should have said ‘being a rapist’)

  5. leejcaroll 1, July 30, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Hopefully rape won;t make you popular either.
    You have an attitude problem. I’m a nun in drag.

  6. Like
    The Kentucky Trial Court Review · 1,308 like this
    54 minutes ago ·

    On the Savannah Dietrich case, a sibling of one of the boys involved does not help the positions of her brother by retweeting the following as she did today:
    “Ruining two kids lives won’t make you popular… #backoffslut #YOUREAHOE”
    Maybe she’s trying to be her brother’s keeper. But she’s doing it the wrong way.

  7. EITHER these boys have the lawyer from Hell or one of them as the sister from Hell (or both). POPULAR? Hey, if girls have to be real sweet and quiet about rape (and pornography published against their will) to be popular, then we need to see a resurgence of unpopularity real the Hell soon.

    Sibling, are you thy brother’s keeper?

  8. Keeping the pressure on is the only way to break through the unlawful arrangements the judges, prosecutors and others make. Just as the journalist in the Penn State scandal was really the motive force behind busting the cover-up artists, the way to keep this unholy alliance from derailing every attempt at justice is to relentlessly expose every corrupt detail. They have a bag of tricks and there are always lots of participants holding the bag.

  9. Elaine, thanks for the followup. Wonder if the county attorney is a regular golf buddy of the kids’ dads.

  10. Savannah Dietrich attorney wants Jefferson County attorney’s office off case
    Teen unhappy with plea bargain offer

    An attorney for 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich has asked a judge to remove the Jefferson County attorney’s office from her case involving two high school teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her.

    Attorney Thomas Clay, who has been hired to represent Dietrich in the juvenile court proceedings, confirmed that he filed the motion Friday to be heard on Monday, but said because of confidentiality rules, he was not allowed to get into specifics of why he is making the request.

    Dietrich and her family have criticized the county attorney’s office’s handling of the case, saying the prosecution offered the two defendants a lenient plea bargain on charges of first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and misdemeanor voyeurism, and that they were unaware of the deal and recommended sentence until just before it was announced in court.

    Ordered by District Judge Dee McDonald not to discuss the case, Dietrich angrily tweeted the names of her attackers and criticized the justice system, leading attorneys for the boys to file a motion to hold her in contempt. That motion was dropped Monday after The Courier-Journal ran a story on Dietrich’s case last week and it was picked up around the globe.

    Bill Patteson, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office, said he could not discuss the case because juvenile court proceedings are confidential.

    The Courier-Journal has also filed motions for Monday, asking McDonald to vacate any order prohibiting Dietrich from discussing what happened in the case and to open files of both the sexual assault and the motion to hold the teen in contempt.

  11. Other voices: Open juvenile court

    So, two teenage boys admit to sexually assaulting a girl and circulating photos of the attack and who winds up in trouble?

    Why, the victim of course — a 17-year-old Louisville girl who until Monday faced possible jail time for contempt of court.

    Her offense?

    Speaking out on Twitter about her case, in violation of the excessive secrecy that envelops Kentucky’s juvenile court system.

    Lawyers for the boys had the sense this week to drop their ill-advised efforts to hold Savannah Dietrich in contempt of court after she went public with her dissatisfaction, including what she believed to be lenient treatment of the boys who await sentencing.

    Now Kentucky needs to do what most states already have done and drop the rigid confidentiality laws that govern juvenile court proceedings.

    Kentucky is one of only 11 states that bar any access to juvenile proceedings — the rest, including Indiana and Tennessee allow full or partial access, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

    Without such access, how is the public to know how the courts function and how effective they are at handling juvenile criminal cases? In this case, troubling questions have surfaced that demand answers.

    For example, Dietrich claims she had no say in the resolution of the case or the plea deal the Jefferson County Attorney’s office struck with the two young men. Is this true?

    Who knows? Because of the confidentiality of records and closed court proceedings, we can’t tell and no one else involved is talking.

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