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)