Ky Teen Sexually Assaulted, Then Threatened With Jail Time

Savannah Dietrich faced jail time after tweeting about being sexually abused.

August 14, 2012, 5:19 PM

Aug. 20, 2012— -- For 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich, it all started with a night of underage drinking with some friends.

"Just straight from the bottle," she said. "I remember them daring me to drink some more, and they were kind of teasing me a little bit."

Dietrich said she blacked out and woke up to find her clothes disheveled and felt that "something wasn't right."

"I had my dress back on but my bra was shifted all weird and then my underwear was off," she said.

With hazy memories, she decided to let it go. But months later, the Louisville, Ky., teenager said she started hearing rumors from friends that two boys had taken photos of her that night and allegedly shared them.

"They told me that it was me on the kitchen floor, passed out, my eyes are closed," she said. "My clothes are -- I'm exposed. Someone said one boy had his arm broken at the time and said his cast was in the picture."

In her first network interview, Dietrich broke her silence to "Nightline" to describe what happened when she tried to avenge her tainted reputation, and set in motion a cautionary tale with a dangerous mix of teen drinking and sexual abuse in an age of instant, global, viral media.

When she first found out about the photos Dietrich cried for months. She said she repeatedly confronted the boys to get the truth and they told her that she took off her clothes and that she had consented to the photo being taken. They took one photo with a phone and then deleted it, Dietrich said they told her, but she didn't believe them.

"It's not possible," she said. "I'm really insecure about my body a lot and there is no way possible I would have taken off my clothes and let them see-- take a picture."

Dietrich said when she couldn't get the whole truth from the two boys, she got the police involved. She said she brought them witnesses and showed them phone messages from people saying they saw the naked photo of her on other people's phones, not just the boys'.

The two boys confessed to felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism, but because they are all juveniles, the court records are confidential, meaning the charges, the boys' identities and their punishment stays secret.

"I was upset," Dietrich said. "I felt like they got less than the minimal punishment... I knew that they were manipulating the system to silence me."

So she poured her heart out on social media, tweeting to her 200 followers on Twitter about what happened to her, even though she knew it meant she could be found in contempt of court and face jail time.

"The one main post I got in trouble for was where I said the boys' names and they sexually assaulted me," she said.

David Mejia, one of the boys' lawyers, filed a contempt motion against Dietrich, and she faced 180 days in jail for violating the confidentiality of the juvenile court.

"I was prepared for it," she said. "It's just my rights, and if they feel like this is justice, then I really don't know what justice is. I thought it was to protect the victims, not prosecute them."

Mejia said the contempt motion was not to jail or punish Dietrich, but to have a judge force her to delete the tweet with his client's name and stop her from posting.

"I was hoping she would even have some remorse or an apology to give," he said. "That didn't happen."

Instead, press coverage of Dietrich's plight went viral and began trending on the blogosphere. Dietrich's online petition to have the contempt charges dropped received 50,000 signatures within 24 hours, making it one of the fastest growing petitions on The boys lawyers withdrew the contempt motion, but not before there was a tidal wave of backlash against the two boys.

"It has been just more incredibly difficult than I can describe going from just living this high school boy life, student athlete, popular kid, to suddenly having his name all over the country described as a rapist which isn't even the charge," Mejia said of his client. "He has gotten contacts, calls, letters. He's been threatened and it's absolutely just destroyed whatever normal life he had."

Jason Riley, a reporter who covers the courts for the Louisville Courier-Journal, said the boys' reputations are ruined and that Dietrich has become "a bit of a First Amendment hero" for telling her story.

"There are some people who felt Savannah has gone too far in talking about this and branding these boys," Riley said. "A lot of people are misreporting facts. They're calling the boys rapists, obviously they pleaded guilty to sexual abuse but they were not found guilty of rape."

Emily Farrar-Crockett, Dietrich's lawyer, called her client "extremely brave" for speaking out.

"So many children do not come forward and say what people do to them," she said. "So she is a heroine. She has given a voice to so many people who otherwise might be silent."

As far as the boys are concerned, Farrar-Crockett said they earned the reputation they have now.

"They took the pictures, they disseminated it, they told people about what they had done," she said. "To come back and blame her now for ruining their reputation I think is despicable. They did this to themselves."

The one thing Mejia did say was that Dietrich got it wrong in her tweets.

"The profanity in her tweets and her entire disrespect for the court system, her characterization of what happened and the falsehoods that she gave... Nothing but shock and frustration on our side," he said.

Kentucky is one of just 11 states where records are sealed for underage court cases. The Louisville Courier-Journal is fighting in court to unseal the case records.

"There's actually a push now because of this case to open juvenile courts," Riley said. "We don't know what the deal is for the boys. Savannah is not allowed to say, her family is not allowed to say. So we don't know how fair it is, really at this point."