"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is an ass - an idiot." Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors, wrote that line in Oliver Twist in 1838 and the phrase -- often quoted when the application of the law runs contrary to common sense -- remains true today.
Savannah Dietrich, 17, of Kentucky, passed out at a party. Two boys sexually assaulted her and later shared photos of the assault with their friends. In a plea bargain the victim knew nothing about until right before it was announced, the pair pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism. Savannah thought the proposed punishment (sentencing has not yet occurred) was too lenient, so she violated a court gag order by tweeting their names on Twitter. Now, Savannah could face up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted of violating the court order to keep her assailants' names confidential.
The assailants' lawyers asked Jefferson District Court Judge Dee McDonald to find Savannah in contempt of court for outing his clients on Twitter.
"There you go, lock me up," Savannah had tweeted after naming them. "I'm not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell."
Technically, Savannah did violate the court order, although it might be an overly broad restriction on her freedom of speech. The proper course would have been for her to ask the judge to vacate the order or seek to have a higher court intercede. But Savannah was tired of being a victim. “They got off very easy … and they tell me to be quiet, just silencing me at the end,” Savannah said.
The law said Savannah should remain silent, be seen but not heard. But Savannah, who had been seen enough in the humiliating photos by an unknown number of people, wanted to be heard. She had come to the court seeking justice but was basically told the equivalent of the old joke, "when rape is inevitable, you should keep quiet, lay back and enjoy it." So Savannah chose civil disobedience over silence.
“So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys,” Savannah told the Louisville Courier Journal. “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.”
I understand the law and I understand justice, but they are not always one and the same. It seems intuitive that if a woman is raped, she should have the right to name her attackers. On July 30, Savannah will return to court, this time for a hearing on contempt charges. If found guilty, she could spend the next six months behind bars while the boys who sexually assaulted her are free awaiting their own hearing date. That is what the law supposes should occur. As I squeeze my own figurative hat emphatically in both hands, I echo Mr. Bumble's words: "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass."