‘Thanks for Ruining My Life’: A teen tweets against her attackers—and upends the courts.
Her green eyes lined with charcoal, hair swept aside into a loose braid, she recounts the June episode on a crisp fall day in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, sitting at a neighborhood coffee shop. Normally, an underage victim of sexual assault would not be named in these pages. But Dietrich wanted to go public.
Her ordeal began when two 16-year-old boys stripped off her bra and underwear after she had passed out at a party. The boys took turns pushing their fingers into her vagina, documenting their actions with cellphone photos. When Dietrich pressed charges, the boys pleaded guilty in a deal offered by the prosecutor, but she faced a new and unexpected problem: the judge ordered her not to talk about what had happened to her—an apparent infringement of her right to free speech, according to legal experts and to Dietrich herself.
The court was trying to “gag a victim,” says her mother, Sharon Dietrich, to “hide a crime.”
The teen, already feeling that the boys were getting off easy under their plea agreement, started tweeting. “Everyone thought I was this little girl they could intimidate,” she says, with a slight Kentucky lilt.
The tweets flew out, 10 in one day: “Protect rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville,” read the seventh.
“They said I can’t talk about it or I’ll be locked up. So I’m waiting for them to read this and lock me up. F—k justice,” read the 10th.
The next day, the boys’ lawyers filed a motion to hold Dietrich in contempt of court, arguing that she had made “contemptuous remarks at this court” and “false allegations of criminal activity” in using the term “rapist,” according to court filings. The contempt charge meant that she could face potential jail time, while the boys, because of their plea agreement, would not.
In some ways, the case exposes age-old hurdles that women and girls face when reporting sexual assault. But it is also a blunt reminder of the transformation of the American teen experience, as technologies make it possible for youthful stupidity to become known far beyond the community where, perhaps less than a generation ago, it might have remained. Photos, texts, and tweets—successors to handwritten notes passed under the desk then discarded in the trash—can be considerably more potent, both for the victim and for the accused.