The Kentucky Rapists, Law and Vigilante Justice

People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws.

-Edmund Burke

It was in 1992 that I first realized the Canadian criminal justice system was broken and could not defend me or my rights, when it came to light that several Ontario girls approximately my age were brutally destroyed by a husband-wife pair of psychopaths.

The resulting trial of the serial rapists/murderers, including the plea bargain of one of the criminals, was a harsh dose of reality for me as a 15-year-old girl.

Civil Disobedience

As you might guess from today’s title, my concern regarding the Savannah Dietrich case is not so much anything to do with court orders. As a Canadian, I openly confess to enjoying the delightful snark of SourceFed in response to the news that

“A 17-year-old Kentucky girl who was upset by the plea deal reached by a pair of teenagers who sexually assaulted her is now facing a contempt charge for tweeting their names in violation of a court order. The Associated Press does not normally report the names of sexual assault victims, but Dietrich and her parents say they do not want to shield her identity and want her case to be public.”

-Huffington Post

In the 1990s, when Canada went through the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka case, the internet was not such a huge part of the equation–but it was looming. At the time, as I recall it, the media access controversy was partly over American satellite TV, which did not answer to the Canadian jurisdiction’s constraints on case reporting and was a source of information for large numbers of Canadians.

The internet is a different animal than “traditional” mass media, one where individuals like myself have the ability to disseminate information about others, like Frey and Zehnder, with or without their consent. One where the same can be done to us.

No Comparison

It is difficult for us to draw comparisons between Bernardo and Homolka, Zehnder and Frey. For instance, Bernardo was 28 when charged. (The 53 charges against him dated back to when he was 19, and Homolka was 17 when she became involved with him.) The Kentucky boys were 17.

Bernardo and Homolka drugged their victims and made videotapes of the heinous abuses–tapes which were successfully destroyed to prevent their potential leakage and dissemination via the Brave New Internet. Zehnder and Frey attacked an unconscious girl at a party and successfully shared the images they made via the Brave New Internet.

Bernardo was clearly a egomaniacal psychopath incapable of real sexual function. We don’t know about Zehnder and Frey yet.

In the 1990s, civilized people were horrified by the gross oddity of Bernardo and Homolka. In the 21st century, we hear regularly about crime against young people, whether by peers or adults, made visible on the internet. As I say, it’s difficult for us to draw comparisons.

Bad Ethics

SourceFed’s snappy young VJ’s suggest that, just as the internet was used to destroy Savannah Dietrich’s life, it has also been the tool of justice. The morality of mob justice is not even a question for them.

In this instance, it’s hard to argue that two wrongs don’t make a right: Savannah’s control over her person was violated, and her control over personal information was violated. Outraged bloggers responded by ensuring the criminals experience the same loss of control over their online identities.

If not for that, would the defense have rescinded the attempt to charge the victim with contempt? Probably not. The Toronto Star quotes one of the defense lawyers:

David Mejia, an attorney for one of the boys, said the decision to withdraw the motion had nothing to do with public sentiment and online attention to the case…“The horse is out of the barn,” he said. “Nothing is bringing it back.”

Law as the Instrument of Justice

Rape legislation has been handed down to us from the recent past when women were not persons under the law. Those standards of judgement are still implicitly with us, and they suck.

In my youth, I recall learning that in Canada, the punishments and statutes for sexual crimes were parallel to those concerning property damage, not crimes against other human beings. Also, marital rape was only outlawed in my province when I was 7 years old. I resent this slowness of collective mind on a cosmic-justice, sweeping-history kind of level.

That said–do two wrongs make a right?

If we believe it was wrong for individuals to use the internet against Savannah, is it right for individuals to use it against the rapists?

It’s only their names and faces, for every future employer and co-worker and new college pal and prospective love interest to find, forever.

In fairness, Savannah will face the same.

Several Crimes in Play

I agree that the permanent stigma should be shifted off the victim and onto the perpetrator. That’s theoretically the purpose of online sex offender registries.

But there was also the question of violating the spirit (versus the letter) of a third law, one which says that young people get a clean slate when they turn 18.

The law in question–the law being abused by the criminals, their lawyers, and the judge who allowed the plea bargain–had nothing to do with the seriousness of the crime or the punishment, and everything to do with the age of majority. The mass media outlets clearly saw those existing laws as something inherently to be respected (or inherently to get sued over), because their coverage didn’t include the criminals’ names.

Laws designed for society as a whole are ever at odds with the needs of the individual. In this case, the spirit and intent of the law was entirely inverted and perverted.

So people acted to restore the balance. The internet is not particularly known for respecting the inherent value of traditional laws and jurisdictions.

What will that do for cases to follow? For social perceptions of order, authority and the vested right and responsibility to wield justice? We don’t know.

So, we see a victory against an individual injustice, and we also see the world as we previously knew it eroded a little more, for better or worse.

The Locus of Final Authority

In the minds of of the civilized, that ongoing erosion requires that a new form of law and order be built. And that is happening. We have Google, Facebook and CarrierIQ. We have cybercrimes units, IP logging and the ability to subpoena ISP records.

The intention, I hear, is to allow our justice system to put an leash on things like online bullying, street violence videos, cyber-predators, and child pornography–such as that created by the Kentucky rapists.

Oh, and probably vigilanteism, which according to tradition, should be considered no civilized recourse for law-abiding people. The law is the ordained and rightful instrument for handling these things. For, as Burke also said on behalf of every cyberbullying victim, there is no greater tyranny than that of the mob.

Even if it means installing a wiretapping/keylogging rootkit on every Android, order must be brought to bear on this Brave New World so that justice and peace may reign. Just like back in the 1990s, before the internet became such a problem.

After all, the citizens are made for and by the civilization. (Or is it that the civilization is made for and by the citizens? I’m sure it’s all the same.)

Yet all civilizations are composed of individuals, with individual responsibilities and decisions. The judges. The lawyers. The legislators. The criminals. The citizens. The technocrats.

What I remember from the world before is that I saw the system was broken, because we are broken; and it could not defend me or my rights.



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