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.