In these modern times of social media available with the flick of a thumb across a smart-phone screen, it was inevitable that a survivor of sexual violence would name their attacker(s) in a public forum.
World, meet 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich of Kentucky. She’s got ovaries of steel:
“There you go, lock me up,” Savannah Dietrich tweeted, as she named the boys who she said sexually assaulted her. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”
She tweeted her attackers names after disappointment about what she felt was a lenient plea deal. Like so many survivors, she felt that the justice system had failed her. Rather than be silenced, Dietrich posted to twitter in an act of civil disobedience (she had been ordered to not reveal the attackers’ names). One has to wonder why the judge bothered warning Dietrich about posting their names, however. The perpetrators had circulated pictures of the rape and bragged about it publicly, to the point where Dietrich was afraid to leave the house. So, who’s being protected here?
This move is already being heralded for its bravery by many in the feminist community. An act of digital vigilante justice in a rape-culture society and a system that dogmatically protects the wrong team.
I talk a lot about ending shame and silence around sexual violence. As a survivor, one of the most healing things I did for myself was to end the silence of my experience and share it with others. Silence is a part of the problem. No matter what kind of sexual violence it is, there is the threat that your attacker will do it again or retaliate. Or maybe no one will believe you, which is its own kind of hell. So, when we tell our stories — it is an incredible act of bravery and faith. Faith in the humanity of whomever you are telling.
Silence breeds shame. And shame is a terrible burden to bear.
I must admit, I feel conflicted about Dietrich’s actions. I understand that symbolically it is a radical act of defiance against rape culture. And on that level, I am a fan. But there is something about it that makes me uneasy. Of course, you are going to get the people who say that something like this could be used fraudulently — like claiming someone raped you is the same thing as yelling “Fire” on a subway platform. You know, because that happens all the time. No, I think what makes me uneasy is perhaps my own discomfort with doing a similar act. Could I, a survivor, tweet my abusers name? Frankly, just the idea of doing that scares the shit out of me. Don’t get me wrong. I know he can’t hurt me anymore. But somehow… it’s over the line? You see that? That’s how deep the shame goes. It’s been 22 years since that man laid a hand on me, but I still couldn’t do what Dietrich did.
So, what do you think? Is Savannah a hero? Should all survivors feel unshackled?