Sunday, July 29, 2012

Paying the Price

She was not silent.  They are certainly paying the price.   

At a party about a year ago, Savannah Dietrich, a minor, got drunk and passed out.  While passed out, she was sexually assaulted.  The assailants, also minors, took pictures of the incidents and shared their photos via the Internet.  They were charged with and pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse (a felony) and voyeurism (a misdemeanor). They will be sentenced next month.  Those involved in the case were issued a court order not to talk about the case. However, Savannah Dietrich used Twitter to “out” the young men who sexually assaulted her.  As a result, the boys’ lawyers submitted a motion that Dietrich be held in contempt of court.  After news of the possible contempt charge spread around the world, the motion was withdrawn.
I have read a lot about this case in news reports, blog posts, and blog comments.  Many people have a lot to say about the events, and rightfully so.  Many have spoken out to affirm Dietrich’s right to speak her truth.  Too often, victims, survivors, of sexual assault are too afraid to speak about what happened to them.  As a result, their healing is hindered and whoever abused them goes unpunished and may go on to abuse again.  It is more remarkable when a survivor summons the courage to speak than when she (as most survivors are female) stays silent. Dietrich refused to be silent.   

Some have denounced Dietrich for her actions at the time of the attack.  Yes, she was a minor and she got drunk.  Yes, she was so drunk that she passed out.  That is irresponsible behavior, though, sadly, it is also common behavior for teenagers.  However, to say that her drunkenness made it acceptable for the boys to take advantage of her is despicable.  No one, no one, deserves to be sexually assaulted/raped/abused in any way for any reason at any time.  To blame her for their actions is a serious misplacement of responsibility. 

Many people have spewed hateful epithets at the boys who took advantage of her. I understand the impulse.  What the boys did was abhorrent.  The fact that they took picture of their actions makes the whole situation even more disgusting. I was sickened for many reasons I’ll not go into by the boys’ actions and some of the follow-up after them. 

However … And here is where my thoughts are likely to swerve from the majority of what I’ve read about the case.  However, after reading more and more comments full of anger and hate towards the boys, I wonder, “Is this anger productive?” 

I believe support of Dietrich is justified.  I’d also say that anger against the boys is justified.  But much of what I’ve read goes past the point of righteous anger into the zone of full-out, can’t-see-past-it, let-me-release-the-entirety-of-my-wrath hatred.   
That kind of loathing is not productive.  I’ve been in the place of loathing before.  For weeks, actually in waves over a period of months, being in that place left my eyes wide-open many nights and my back and neck aching with tension because my mind simply wouldn’t loosen its grip on my anger.  It was not a healthy place for me. 

Loathing is not a healthy place for anyone. Loathing can lead to a “revenge-seeking” mentality.  Revenge-seeking is not a healthy response to injustice.  Please understand: seeking justice is important.  Justice is critical for our world to move towards some semblance of peace. However, seeking revenge is not the same as seeking justice. Seeking revenge perpetuates harm, hatred, brokenness.  Seeking justice is an attempt move beyond, to love, to heal.

Healing is not only necessary for the victim of abuse, but for the perpetrators of it, something that I haven’t seen acknowledged in all the talk about Dietrich’s case. We may not think they “deserve” it.  Maybe they don’t.  However, for our world to be whole, all people, all people - and all living things, for that matter - must be whole.  “All people” includes both those who have been hurt and those who hurt.  Revenge-seeking does nothing to bring anyone to wholeness. Justice-seeking does. Forgiveness does.

Maybe it is not yet the time to forgive Savannah Dietrich’s assailants.  I don’t know.  Certainly before forgiveness is possible, the hatred-spewing must stop.  Maybe before forgiveness is possible, people should channel their righteous anger.  Perhaps the fury can be focused on supporting survivors of abuse; on listening to and hearing them speak their truth; on having important discussions about the climate we live in that allows such pervasive abuse in the first place; on including in those discussions serious introspection about our own role in perpetuating violence; on looking for ways to change the climate so fewer of us become perpetrators or victims of abuse. 

None of these steps would be easy.  All of them are vital if we wish to live in a society where  people are not taken advantage of because they are vulnerable. All are crucial if we wish to live in a society where those who choose to do wrong are not punished forever, but dealt with so that both justice is served and redemption is possible. We must not be silent.  We must move our world - towards peace, towards love, towards salvation.  Otherwise, we will all forever be paying the price.    

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