Gag Orders Shield Rapists Who Post Photos

Last summer when Savannah Dietrich was sixteen she had a few drinks at a party and passed out. Two acquaintances raped her and took pictures, which they sent to their friends. Gossip spread through her school, and Savannah was forced to “just sit there and wonder, who saw, who knows?

With the humiliation she cried herself to sleep for months and avoided being in public.

Many young women don’t report rape for fear of further shaming, but Savannah did.

When her attackers pled guilty they requested a gag order to protect themselves, and the judge agreed.

First Savannah cried. Then she got angry and tweeted the names of her rapists:

There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell… [Protecting rapists] is more important than getting justice for the victim.

Twitter closed the account.

Next, she posted on Facebook:

If reporting a rape only got me to the point that I’m not allowed to talk about it, then I regret it, I regret reporting it.

Victim’s rights activists worry about the message sent in jailing victims.

Elizabeth Beier was so outraged she created a petition asking the judge to throw out the charges, stating:

I think what she did was very brave … and I think a lot of people who may have been victims or survivors of assault and didn’t get the justice they deserve probably see themselves in her…  Everyone wants this girl to have peace and time to recover and not another trauma like jail time.

The petition gathered 62,000 signatures in one day.

A defense attorney withdrew the request saying, “The horse is out of the barn. Nothing is bringing it back.”

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, is thrilled, declaring:

a huge victory not only for Ms. Dietrich, but for women all over the country… These boys shared the picture of her being raped with their friends and she can’t share their names with her Twitter community? That’s just crazy.

So the gag order was lifted because the Defense gave in. But you have to wonder why the justice system protects admitted assailants who ruin others’ lives, and who could ruin still more under cover of silence — and who have already revealed themselves, anyway!

I wonder if these rapists, who appear to be white males (if a site posting their names and photographs is correct) were protected because they are white and seen as “boys who made a mistake” and not the criminals they are. Too often we protect privileged members of society (white, male, rich) over others (ethnic, female, poor).

Some might also blame a girl for getting drunk. But is drunkenness a worse crime than rape? Sometimes drinking even gets boys off the hook in public opinion – “He was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing.”

Yes, publicizing these men’s names could sully their future.

Maybe they should have thought of that before attacking Savannah — and posting pictures, themselves, on the internet.

And maybe these boys should have worried more about ruining Savannah’s life.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 1, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. I agree if they were all at a party drinking, these boys knew exactly what they were doing. Girls do not report rape because of what will happen after they report it, how their peers will treat them at school and because most of the time they will feel ashamed for what has happened. I had a friend at the University who was raped by 2 boys at the same time she did not want to report it but after talking to a group of friends she decided it would be the right thing to do. These boys got into a lot of trouble and were kicked off the football team. My friend will always remember this incident but she will know that she did the right thing by calling the cops. women need to stick up for themselves and report any sort of abuse. If these boys were not caught up with the law they would still be doing it to harmless girls.

  2. It might be better just to lower the age. Because if there was an exception for serious crimes, the boys’ names might still have not been allowed to be outed because what they did was not as ‘far’ as rape (if the links are to be believed) and incurred a non-prison sentence so was not a serious crime (in the eyes of the judge/jury/laws. I’m not saying it was not a serious crime in actuality). I feel so bad for her, especially crying herself to sleep every night for months – how depressed and in pain would you have to be to do that. And avoiding public places because of shame for being raped/fear that the photos might look consensual/whatever, its just so bad. And, you see, I feel a bit guilty. In my BDSM stories, rape of both men and women is portrayed as humiliating. I thought that was my idea. You see, I don’t think of rape as humiliating – devastating, violating, reducing you to nothing, yes. But I always thought it is the rapist who humiliates himself by raping, by making himself a rapist and not a person anymore, by showing to the victim his true self, that he is a dirty pervert rapist who should be locked up in jail. I never thought I’d feel humilated if I was raped, I thought I’d be very sad, angry, anxious, or feel dirty/used, etc. I would have thought that if people saw photos of it, it would be very humiliating to the rapist but not me because ppl would just feel bad for me and angry with the rapists if they saw the photos. So now I know that what I write is completely true.

    • I agree that rape should not be humiliating for the victim.

      Their are two sides to this:

      1) Point of view of the rapist: The point of the rape is to humiliate the victim and to feel superior from having done so. Attacks are sometimes shared with other to further buoy up that point: Rapists feel powerful by creating humiliation — like name-calling.

      2) Point of view of society: Unfortunately, because the victim is often blamed, too often the victim is shamed for having brought the attack upon herself. Raped males are much less likely to be blamed.

      • Trust me, male victims are not only blamed, they are not believed (society thinks males can’t be raped) and often directly laughed at and humiliated, called gay (whether they are or not, insinuating that “gay is bad”) or they are told they probably liked the rape (society believes all males always want all sex, all the time, regardless of any factors). Often the people laughing are the cops a male tries to report the crime to. I’m a male survivor of child rape, incest, sex trafficking and also was raped as an adult. Trust me, males are almost always blamed for being victims of rape, if their rape is acknowledged at all. So much so, that a tragic number of males don’t ever report, or even tell friends or loved ones. The stigma is too great for most. This leads experts to add that the stats of “1 in 6” males raped is probably grossly understated due to the fear of reporting. Look at and for more information. My abusers were men and women. My first rape was by my father; I was four years old. My blog is here:

        The comments here in support of Savannah are awesome. But there is far too much society doesn’t even want to know about male victims of rape. Thanks for this article.

      • Thanks for sharing your experience.

        You tend to find that the powerful are defended and the powerless blamed in most situations. In your case, a younger man was blamed while an older, more powerful man was let off the hook n. We saw how priests raping young boys were also dismissed by the Catholic church (while holding itself up as a bastian of morality).

        Some posts on that topic:

        Patriarchy’s Role in Shielding Pedophile Priests
        Child Rape: Not As Bad As Contraception

  3. Ironically, if Savannah hadn’t been given a gag order, only her friends would know the rapists’ names. However, because she tweeted/Facebooked their names in response to the order, a couple hundred people know. Then, because she went to the media with her story, a lot more people will know. I just googled one of their names and most of the first page that comes up is about the rape. This is unfair to them, as the law protects them from a lot of people knowing about it as they’re juveniles, but it’s the court’s fault. Why shouldn’t Savannah or her parents, friends, neighbour, the school janitor, her classmate, the gossipy kids, etc, be allowed to talk about it? I agree with protecting juveniles from the media, because of less responsibility and less ability to handle public hate, and because juveniles won’t have great reputations/position of power/be influential anyway. But a gag order is too far for any crime, but especially rape/murder, and especially a gag order on the victim.

    • Thanks for your pespective. But I disagree with you here for said reasons.

      • #Unfair because the law protects them, but the media interest has inadvertently outed them far more than Savannah ever did. People are posting their names/photos not to out them, but, instead, to get back at the justice system and fight for free speech. So they are pawns in this battle. **I’m not necessarily saying the law is fair. Perhaps the age should be lowered from 18 to 16, or as you suggest, an exception made for serious crimes (ie effectively lowering the age, as the media do not usually report minor crimes, and certainly minor crimes even if reported are unlikely to be reported nationwide or with a photo). I guess gag orders are common and not only in this case, then, if they’re there to protect minors. Though I bet they’re infringed constantly, because if Savannah had told her friends and schoolmates in real life and not through social media it would be hard to enforce the order or prove she’d told people; and the rapists might not even know she’d told people. Sorry for loads of comments, this story really, really bothers me for some reason. I don’t know why, it just does. It affects me as if I’d gone through something similar, though I never have and neither has anyone else I know.

  4. Can’t believe Twitter closed the account!! I also am stunned by these boys’ behaviour – not only they didn’t regret what they’d done, they even shared the pics proudly boasting what they did (well, maybe they didn’t let on it was rape, but still). Quite moronic of them, as no doubt the photos helped Savannah prove her case.

    • Sometimes people post things they do that are abusive because they want to brag about the humiliation they caused. The sex could not be consensual since she was passed out. Therefore it was rape. The boys ought to have known this.

      • How insane. Just, wow. And really they were humiliating themselves by showing everyone they were rapists, instead of humiliating their victim! (A fact they obviously realised later, hence the gag order.) Here we have the same law re the media and under 18s, but no gag orders that I’ve heard of, except that professionals and court staff involved in the case can’t talk about it if you’re under 18. But anyone else can.

  5. I’ve heard this story before, and am confused: In the USA, as in the UK, the media is allowed to publicize photos and names as long as the criminal is over 18. If they were over 18, it was legal for even TV news to post their photos, so why stop Savannah from telling her friends – which wouldn’t affect their future as only her friends would know, not the rapists’ friends/family (who would probably know anyway as they’d be in jail) and not the whole country like other rapists in the media? Besides, by the time they get out of prison it’d be 10 years later and the story would be long forgotten. If they were under 18, why did they have to request a gag order as the media would have been not allowed to release their names anyway? Unless the gag order was specific to Savannah? Why would that be allowed? It’s also unworkable, because as the gag order only affects Savannah, her friends, family etc could tell people and not be restrained by the gag order.

    Additionally, if America has free speech, how can a ‘gag order’ exist?

    (I think they posted the photos on the internet themselves because they thought others wouldn’t guess it was not consensual.)

    They made the right decision to drop the charges, obv. I guess this story really shows that its not strangers you have to be afraid of, but people you know, which is borne out by the statistics – you’re much more likely to be raped by a friend, partner or acquaintance.

  6. Reblogged this on Week Woman and commented:
    Justice prevails for rape victim.

  7. Another great post – am re-blogging again I’m afraid!

  8. Georgia–this story infuriated me when it was brewing. Kudos to Savannah for being strong enough to point fingers and name names. I honestly do not think her life will be ruined, as she so definitively took back the power and dignity her rapists thought they were taking away. Thankful she was strong enough to make this happen–think for many other young women, this would have been so much more damaging.

    • Yes, her life probably won’t be completely ruined since she empowered herself. But it easily could have been. And she could still suffer lingering effects. Most rape victims do, whether anxiety, depression, continuing rage, losing trust in other people and your own judgment, many become repelled by sex, the list goes on.

      They have adversely affected her life and should not be treated with kid gloves protecting their privacy, for sure. (I’m sure you agree.)

      • I absolutely agree, Georgia. To rape a woman (girl, really), and further humiliate by sharing the photos online…horrific. They got exactly what they deserved (although I feel their sentencing was by far too light). I am just so impressed by her strength–it so easily could have gone another way. I do believe her handling of the rape and its aftermath was stellar, outside the norm, and this young woman is my hero–all because she refused to be a victim. I hope this will give more strength and empowerment to other victims of rape, as well. I felt so violated when my apartment was broken into–I cannot imagine what victims of rape experience in the aftermath (let alone the act itself rendering one completely powerless).

  9. Wow. The boys were drunk and knew EXACTLY what they were doing. Right now, they should be in jail. Period. If they don’t do time then the message is you’re allowed to have sex with a girl without her consent as long as she is drunk. Big hugs to this beautiful and brave girl.

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