Society has changed. The invention of the internet, and social media, has given the people in our world the ability to disseminate information at an alarming rate. This fact is evident in the changes that have been made based on reaction in social media. Remarks by politicians spread like wildfire across social networks, changing the political landscape within hours. Injustices are broadcast by activists, which lead to changes in how we think. Take the example of Amelia Rivera. Last year, this three year-old sparked petitions and social networking campaigns after she was denied a kidney transplant because of her “mental retardation.” Eight months after the story hit social networks, Amelia was granted a kidney transplant.
While all of these causes can lead to incredible amounts of positive change, it can cause some stories to get lost in the shuffle. Bloggers and journalists are always looking for the next hot topic. It’s how we attract more readers. We search the headlines for breaking news and ideas, hoping to beat the other writers to the punch. It’s no surprise that a story that should have been a big, ongoing deal, hasn’t received as much attention as it should. Of course, it came about during the heat of last year’s election.
In August of last year, the story of Savannah Dietrich hit the net. Savannah is a young woman from Louisville, Kentucky who filed sexual assault charges against two boys after they reportedly stripped her clothing off while she was passed out, and took turns penetrating her vagina with their fingers. The boys took pictures of the incident with their cell phones, and were reported to have sent the images of the acts and her naked body to others. Normally I would not be naming an underage victim of sexual assault, but this brave young woman requested that media outlets go public with her story.
The boys in this case accepted a plea deal from the prosecution. Here’s where the story goes awry. The judge in this case placed a gag order on Savannah, forcing her to refrain from publicly discussing her trauma. In a wonderful act of defiance, Savannah took to social networks and tweeted the names of the two boys, along with various thoughts about what she perceived as a lack of justice in the case. Knowing she was facing possible jail time for defying the gag order, she tweeted, “There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”
Initially, a motion was filed to hold her in contempt of court. However, the motion was dropped and the records of the case were eventually unsealed. While it would be great to say that my story stops here, it doesn’t. Many have confused this case with another similar case in Steubenville, Ohio. It’s easy to understand the confusion, because the cases are very similar at their core.
In the Ohio case, a young lady was allegedly sexually assaulted multiple times after she passed out at a party. The victim in this case has not released her information to the public, but the allegations are that the girl passed out after drinking, and possibly being drugged. They continue to claim that she was carried around unconscious, or nearly unconscious, to two other parties. Somewhere at, or in-between,
the parties she was assaulted by at least two boys who allegedly took images of the incidents on their phones. Claims of other atrocities include her being stripped naked and left laying on the floor and someone urinating on her. These boys have allegedly nicknamed themselves, and possibly a small group of others, the “Rape Crew.” At this part, the case seems very similar to the case in Kentucky. However, this case gets much worse.
There have been claims that many in this small town have gone to great lengths to cover up the alleged assault due to their extreme loyalty to the high school football team. The hacker group Anonymous did not like how the case was being handled. They released a video warning to everyone they believe to be involved in the incident, or involved in covering up the case. They have released information that they claim to have found regarding many different people including the football players involved, the coach, the sheriff, and even the prosecuting attorney.
While many of the claims have not been substantiated, the people involved in the case, and many of the townspeople, have gone a long way paint the town in a bad picture. The town has a reputation for allowing its athletes to escape the consequences of their actions. According to a detailed New York Times report in December, Bill Miller, a former player for the team, said, “There’s a set of rules that don’t apply to everybody. This has been happening since the early ’80s; this is nothing new. It’s disgusting. I can’t stand it. The culture is not what it should be. It’s not clean.” According to the article, multiple residents made similar claims about the treatment of football players in the town with statements like “The players are considered heroes, and that’s pretty pathetic, because they’ve been able to get away with things for years because of it.”
When confronted by a reporter for the same article, the coach of the Steubenville football team, Reno Saccoccia, got agitated when asked multiple times why he didn’t discipline the players involved in the incident. According to the article, “Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: ‘You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.’”
This doesn’t paint a very good picture of the town, or the attitude of the person heading the football team. It gives credence to the accusations of groups like Anonymous who claim that the culture in the town allows these players, and those involved with the program, to get away with anything. At this point, two of the accused, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, have been placed under arrest. These two are awaiting trial in juvenile court in February. While many others have been implicated in this case, the only other person that I will name is Michael Nodianos. A video that appears to be of Michael talking about the incident on the night it happened was released by Anonymous. The video is a disturbing look into the perspective some of these boys have on rape.
The number of problems with these incidents is astounding. The fact that these boys thought it was okay to violate anyone in this manner is reprehensible. They made it worse by recording the assault and sharing it with others makes it much worse. Finally, the fact that adults have been involved, or allegedly involved, in silencing the victims and covering up the crimes brings this to a level of madness that makes me physically ill.
While many people try to deny the existence of the War on Women in our country, I see these incidents as a symptom of this war. Women have been marginalized and dehumanized recently in politics, government, and the media. This has not escaped the attention of young men in our society. When they don’t respect the rights of a woman and her body, they are willing to cross the line and commit a terrible crime. These boys are fully responsible for their actions, and (when and if proven guilty) should fully suffer the consequences of those actions. However, those of us involved in the media, politics, and even their daily lives, should be making sure that these boys understand the importance of respecting women. This is particularly important considering the influence that social media and the internet has on today’s youth.
With this being said, imagine what would have happened in these cases if social media didn’t get involved. One victim would have been forced into silence by a judge, while a potential cover-up would have likely buried another alleged assault. It shouldn’t take groups like Anonymous to ensure that we are holding ourselves accountable for these crimes. We need to do better.