|Savannah Dietrich and the late Amina Filali|
Luckily, rape is not something many of us women, or men, can talk about from experience. With shame and stigma traditionally attached to the victims, speaking up and blowing the whistle on rapists takes balls and is to be admired and supported.
I am referring to Savannah Dietrich, a teenager from Kentucky, who earlier this month “outed” her rapists on Twitter after a plea deal struck between her attackers and prosecutors. The court had ordered Dietrich not to talk about the case or risk 180 days in prison and a $500 fine.
Defense attorneys moved for the court to hold her in contempt but have since withdrawn the motion although Dietrich violated a court order by publicizing the names of the defendants.
The teenager was at a party in August 2011, where she passed out after drinking too much. Two boys she knew took advantage of her being drunk and sexually assaulted her. Months later, she found out they had also taken pictures of the attack and sent them to friends.
The boys, juveniles at the time, pled guilty to first-degree sexual assault, and to misdemeanor voyeurism, in a plea deal with prosecutors. The judge ordered that no one speak about the court proceedings or the attack itself.
Dietrich rightly felt the deal let the boys off lightly. “I was crying as she was reading that [the verdict],” Dietrich told a local paper. “They got off very easy… and they tell me to be quiet, just silencing me at the end.”
“If reporting a rape only got me to the point that I'm not allowed to talk about it, then I regret it,” she wrote on her Facebook wall. “I regret reporting it.”
Juvenile hearings are almost always confidential and even when juveniles are convicted their identities are generally kept private to give them a chance to improve themselves and move on with their lives without public stigma.
But Dietrich felt the punishment the boys received was not commensurate with the harm they caused her. She ignored the court order and tweeted their names. “There you go, lock me up,” she wrote. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”
For a victim to take the Dietrich route is not easy. Several factors would have to come together – support from family and friends, a level of education, access to the Internet, and a judicial system that punishes rapists to city a few. Most of these factors are unfortunately non-existent for thousands of rape victims.
Savannah’s case sadly harks back to the young Moroccan teenager, 16-year-old Amina Filali, whose parents forced her to marry her rapist to preserve “their” dignity. She killed herself three months later -- on March10, 2012 -- by swallowing rat poison after a judge forced her to marry her rapist (erroneously according to Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code), and the blame-the-victim mentality.
Amina’s rapist escaped prison by invoking Article 475, which he claimed would exonerate him if the rape victim were his wife.
Under Moroccan law, rape is punished by prison sentences of five to 30 years, depending on a range of aggravating circumstances, including the age of the victim. Had the law been applied properly in this case, Amina Filali’s rapist would have been charged with “rape of a minor under the age of 18.” And if convicted, he would have been sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in jail.
Article 475 states that when an adult corrupts a minor without the use of violence, threat, or fraud, the prison sentence is five years , whether or not there has been sexual intercourse; further, if the minor has married the adult, then the adult can only be tried if the minor’s legal guardians pressed charges and obtained an annulment.
It was this loophole her family used to marry off their daughter, close the case, and wash the shame.
Amina Filali’s case is not unique in many conservative societies, including the Arab world. Victims, who are often illiterate, keep silent about rape so as not to “dishonor” their families. If the families find out, they prefer to act as if it didn’t happen, blame the victim, open a debate about his/her morals, or find an “amicable solution” for the rapist.
It is a case of using social media platforms, whenever possible, to make life miserable for rapists.
Rape is too often silenced through cultural and traditional values. When the judicial system prevents victims from naming their attacker(s), rapists can feel protected. This is something that needs to change.
Rapists are cowards. That is why it is such a powerful and easy method to use in times of war and conflict. Maybe naming and shaming will make rapists think twice, just maybe… Out the rapists!