Fighting back

July 26, 2012 11:19 am

Two courageous young women have made headlines for using online and social media content to fight back against the men who abused them

Savannah Dietrich

The growth of social media has thrown up some interesting – and challenging – legal issues. And now it is being used as a last resort when justice has, seemingly, failed.

Kentucky teenager Savannah Dietrich took to Twitter recently to ‘name and shame’ two boys who had sexually assaulted her at a party and filmed the attack to show their friends but, as a result of a plea bargain, were given what she called ‘a slap on the wrist’.

Fully aware that by using social media in such a way after the judge told people not to talk about the case placed her at risk of being held in contempt of court (and facing a 180-day prison sentence and US$500 fine), Savannah, 17, tweeted:

‘They said I can’t talk about it or I’ll be locked up. So I’m waiting for them to read this and lock me up. F–k justice…

‘Protect rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville.’

She later confirmed to the Courier Journal that she was more than prepared to face the consequences of her actions, saying, ‘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.’

It was a brave stance, and one that resonated with other social media users who took to the likes of Facebook and (a site that is becoming increasingly popular with people wanting to make a difference) to demand the contempt case against Savannah be dropped. Well over 100,000 people made their voices felt and within hours attorneys for the boys dropped their motion to charge Savannah with contempt – although they denied it had anything to do with public sentiment and online attention to the case.

But as Jeff Dion, Deputy Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, told the Huffington Post, social media has transformed how victims who feel cheated by the justice system can make their grievances known. Where once a civil lawsuit or a sympathetic media organisation were the only options, now there are a plethora of platforms for making the information public.

‘It’s all about giving victims a voice,’ Dion said.

 A weighty issue

Savannah isn’t the only young woman using social media to right a wrong. British weightlifter Zoe Smith, 18, was called a ‘bloke’ and a ‘lesbian’ and told to ‘piss off back to the kitchen to make her boyfriend a sandwich’ after the BBC ran a documentary about her and two fellow athletes’ attempts to make the London Olympics.

The comments were posted, presumably by a troll, in the comments field of the Beeb’s YouTube channel, which showed this extract from the doco:

Zoe, eloquently, took the poster to task on YouTube and drove her point home on a beautifully written blog post:

‘The obvious choice of slander when talking about female weightlifting is “how unfeminine, girls shouldn’t be strong or have muscles, this is wrong”. And maybe they’re right… in the Victorian era. To think people still think like this is laughable, we’re in 2012! This may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but most of the people that do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pigheaded blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we, three small, fairly feminine girls, are stronger than them…

‘What makes me sad is that some girls had this opinion too! How ironic that the title of the show was Girl Power. You’d think that young women around the same age as us would commend us for doing something different and with our lives, and putting 100% effort into it in order to make something of ourselves. But apparently we’re ‘weird’ for not constantly eating crap, binge drinking regularly and wearing the shortest, tightest dresses that the high street has to offer. Sigh…’

Both Savannah and Zoe have acted courageously to refuse to allow their abusers – physical and verbal – to get away with their actions. And it is thanks to the power and reach of online and social media content that they have been able to do so.


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