Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Savannah Dietrich tweets the names of the boys who pled guilty to her sexual abuse in violation of a court order: It isn't fair to the boys, and it does no favors for rape victims

When teenager Savannah Dietrich violated a court order by tweeting the names of two teenage boys who pled guilty to sexual abusing her, she was treated in some quarters as a brave crusader for rape victims. For their part, the boys were treated as deserving of this smear that has reportedly ruined the life of at least one of them.

In fact, Ms. Dietrich should not be applauded for her actions, she should be chastised for them.

First, it wasn't fair to the boys. The were charged as juveniles, and their pleas were premised on an expectation that their cases would be kept confidential. They have a right to rely on the court order entered pursuant to their pleas. We now know that many innocent young men plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit because have no real choice. Brian Banks is a prominent example: Brian pled guilty to a rape he didn't commit because his lawyer convinced him he would lose if he went to trial.  Brian, then 17, wasn't permitted to consult with his parents and was given just ten minutes to decide. He sat down and cried, then he decided 18 months sounded "way better than 41 years to life." 

Second, Ms. Dietrich's actions did no favor for rape victims. She has proven to the criminal defense bar, in a high profile case, that court orders requiring confidentiality not only can't be enforced, but that any attempt to enforce them will only backfire and give greater publicity to the illegal revelation of their clients' names. Ms. Dietrich has just given young men accused of rape -- even the ones who should plead guilty -- an important reason to insist on a trial, where rapists frequently prevail. This means that more young women will be subjected to grueling trials, or, more likely, they will just drop the whole thing.

Ours is a nation of laws. Ms. Dietrich has decided that she's above the ones that apply to the rest of us, even when we happen to be victims. Vigilantism and bloodlust are never valid substitutes for justice, even when we, personally, don't think that justice has been served.