Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cool Heads Have Failed; Now It's Time for Me to Have My Turn

Kelly Bourdet:

Both young men pled guilty to felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism charges, receiving what Dietrich called “a slap on the wrist” as punishment for sexually assaulting her.

...Because Dietrich’s rapists were tried in juvenile court — and because David Mejia, an attorney for one of the young men, reported that their motion to hold Dietrich in contempt was an effort to enforce the law that protects juvenile actions from disclosure – I strongly suspect that the specifics of the plea deal classified the boys as juvenile offenders. The details of the young men’s plea deal have not been made public.

...Like other acts of vigilante, social-media-fuelled justice, Dietrich’s actions assure that the names of her rapists will be available to anyone with a search engine.

...Chris Klein, an attorney for one of the young men, said publicizing their names may create problems for them in the future. And that’s the point. There is a sector of society that believes that publicizing the names of sexual predators denies them of their rights and future opportunities. But this point of view only reflects the relative flippancy with which our culture views rape itself. It’s only when individual survivors of sexual assault and our society as a whole can hold rapists accountable for their actions that we can begin to confront the prevalance of sexual assault.

The Internet is proving to be an important means for survivors of sexual assault to reaffirm their own narratives and to hold sex criminals responsible for their actions. An entire cultural structure and, subsequently, the very court system in which she sought justice put pressure on Savannah Dietrich to stay silent about her rape. I’m so glad she didn’t.

I'm feeling very Socratic today. All I know is how little I know, but I'm surrounded by people who know just as little, yet are convinced that they have certain understanding of huge, complicated issues. So, yes, there's a lot that I'm ignorant and unsure of in this case, but then again, that's true of every other idiot with a broadband connection and ten minutes invested in reading possibly-incomplete and misleading news reports of it, so, what the hell, here's what I've been thinking:

As the bolded line above reminds us, we don't actually know yet what their punishment will be. It would be perfectly understandable if anything less than drawing and quartering would feel unacceptable to Dietrich, but, harsh as it may sound, we might want to take her opinion on the severity of punishment with a grain of salt for now. Maybe they are getting off lightly. We don't know yet. Christ, I have yet to even read an article that makes it clear exactly how serious a juvenile felony conviction is, and whether that alone will cause immense educational/employment obstacles for them.

Some reports I've read have indicated that the gag order only holds until sentencing anyway. But even if that isn't the case, there wasn't any immediate need to convene an Internet tribunal. The boys weren't going to escape or be forgotten in the next few weeks. We could have afforded to wait until their actual sentencing before deciding to trumpet their names across the web. And to continue the above point, perhaps we should wait until we know what that sentence is before deciding that they won't suffer enough and casually doing what we can to increase it. Are they remorseful? Are they the sort of kids who might be humbled and changed for the better by community service rather than prison? I don't know, and I doubt anyone else does either.

If, as a general rule, progressives see the "get tough on crime" push toward trying juveniles as adults as lamentable, perhaps they might want to think carefully before deciding that cases like this constitute an exception. And on a slightly related theme, do we really want to crowdsource serious legal matters? It feels like a significant step in the direction of Idiocracy to make American Idol-style online voting a factor in punishing criminals.

Spike Lee's vigilante, social-media stupidity should have served as an object lesson on fanning emotions into mob action within a medium where consequences can easily and quickly multiply beyond expectation. Here's all I'm really saying: what they did was terrible, and they should be ashamed. But I can easily imagine the possibility of a time, maybe a few decades from now, when circumstances will have changed enough, when they will have changed enough, that a fair-minded person would agree that they don't deserve to be hounded mercilessly by self-styled Erinyes anymore. But we don't know yet to what extent such inescapable scrutiny may preclude such a turn of events.


  1. That struck me too. Nobody has any idea what punishment these guys will get; nobody has mentioned that this judge or this jurisdiction has a habit of letting people off the hook. Nobody has any fucking idea, period.

    What they did is sick and awful, and no one is defending them. But jesus christ, do you think you could see what their official sanctions will be before you amuse yourselves by adding to it?

    Because let's not lie to ourselves; people allow themselves to devolve to a pack mentality because they ENJOY the power that it gives them. There has nothing to do with the actual crime anymore. It's about having a safe target for their rage.

  2. Petra9:47 PM

    "As the bolded line above reminds us, we don't actually know yet what their punishment will be."
    We do know that the punishment is limited. The boys won't get the death penalty nor will they be imprisoned for a few decades. Actually the longest imprisonment they could get is 5 years. Maybe they will just get fined.

    So far they have not suffered any educational obstacles from the crimes that they have commited. They are still students of Trinity High School in Louisville. As a member of the Trinity Alimni Board, prosecuting attorney Paul Richwalsky had a good reason to offer a lenient plea deal to them. If they are allowed to graduate from the school then in the future they are more likely to donate money to the school. Go read if you want to know more.

    You certainly live up to your pen name by not considering that there are other girls out there who could become victims of the two felons before they are sentenced, because it is likely that the felons are still out on bail. The quick and widespread publicizing of their names and pictures has made it much harder for them to vicitimize other girls.

    The publicizing of this case has served notice to potential rapists and other sexual abusers that they risk additional punishment if they commit crimes and this will deter at least some of them from commiting crimes.

    This instance of "Spike Lee's vigilante, social-media stupidity" has done more to protect the girls of Kentucky than the government or you.

  3. I wasn't aware that I had the power or the obligation to "protect the girls of Kentucky" by posting on an unknown blog. You take me more seriously than I do.

    But okay. Assuming you're actually well-informed, then what is the deal with the gag order? Does it only apply until sentencing, or indefinitely? And unless you know the boys personally and can say otherwise, I'm going to assume that they're likely scared shitless at what they've gotten into and were hardly likely to be running around having a rape spree while out on bail (assuming they are out).

    My reference to education/employment had to do with the problems presented by a felony conviction on one's record when applying for any sort of worthwhile job, let alone how several years of jail time could derail any plans for higher education, assuming they had any. You're free to feel as vindictive as you want, but several years in jail and life as a convicted felon would hardly be a slap on the wrist.

  4. "The publicizing of this case has served notice to potential rapists and other sexual abusers that they risk additional punishment if they commit crimes."

    I think we disagree on mainly philosophical grounds here, Petra. More than any other violent crime, I abhor vigilante "justice." There's simply no excuse for it in a civilized society (you may argue the point about whether or not this is one, but I think we ought to at least aspire to it) particularly after a formal trial has taken place.

    You evidently consider the fact that these men don't risk being drawn and quartered to be a travesty of justice, and failing that you will only be satisfied if they are hounded until the end of their days. Such a mindset betrays your thirst for revenge. If you were really interested in justice and "protecting the girls of Kentucky" you would instead be agitating for rehabilitation and re-education-- the only real way to combat recidivism.

    Speaking as one of the unfortunate statistics myself, I'm willing to at least entertain the idea that even a rapist could be remorseful, and that having committed a terrible crime would (shockingly!) be less likely to commit it again. Perhaps (!) they could even be a force for good, and go around speaking at schools and things. My imagination allows me such hopes.

    Now, to the point which you originally brought up -- I don't know the specifics of the case. I don't know if the men are contrite or the courts are corrupt. I find your points rather unsubstantiated, and no one I have read has any more details, either about the incident, the case, the defendants, or the unlikely judicial corruption in Louisville, KY.

    But I *don't* know anything. And until that point I'm not going to judge the case. But I will tsk tsk at the froth-mouthed idiots who think that their righteous anger at the system is an acceptable substitute for first-hand knowledge of a situation.

  5. Boy, Scribbles, when Noel and Brian get here, they're gonna wonder what kinda party they missed!

  6. I'm cowering in fear of the wrath of Petra. I'll just look at this little contretemps as another example of the human tendency to circle the wagons and declare all outsiders enemies. Petra seems to support vigilanteism here, even though he probably wouldn't in other circumstances.
    We all agree that protecting women and girls from rape is a high priority, Petra.

  7. Brian M10:45 AM

    I think I will write a black metal song about this case.

  8. Anonymous1:27 PM

    The plea bargain was for 50 hours of community service. For pleadng guilty to a sex felony. They would not be required to register as sex offenders. Their records would be expunged at age 19.5. The records would be sealed forever and she was never going to be allowed to talk about it.. I know this only because I read the articles on the Louisville local paper's website. I have no other source of information.

    Good for Savannah. I'd have done the same thing.