After a Sexual Assault, a Teen Victim turns to Social Media

John Last 1In most states, media outlets are prevented from reporting the names and some details in juvenile cases. This practice is born of the idea that juveniles can be rehabilitated and returned to society without the stigma of criminality. Overall this has been a successful policy, but sometimes it goes awry.

A recent case in Kentucky has illustrated some of the pitfalls of the practice, especially in the age of social media. ABC and many other outlets reported the story a few days ago. Savannah Dietrich, now 17, was sexually assaulted in August of 2011 by two acquaintances. She was at a party and had been drinking. She was unconscious when the attack took place. Additionally, the boys are reported to have taken photos of her, photos they then showed to classmates and others.

The two attackers have not been identified in the media, though their purported names and other details often appear in the comments sections wherever the story appears. Dietrich, the victim, would not normally be named, but she and her family have given their permission to be identified.

When the case went to court this year the two juveniles made a plea bargain with the district attorney. Both pleaded guilty to first degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism, and are to be sentenced next month. By all accounts neither Dietrich nor her family was notified of the plea agreement, and she was outraged at the deal. Additionally, the judge, Dee McDonald, issued a gag order protecting the rights of the boys to anonymity. Dietrich is quoted in the ABC story as saying, “They got off very easy…and they tell me to be quiet, just silencing me at the end.”

She was having none of it, so she tweeted the boy’s names and her feelings about what had happened. “They said I can’t talk about it or I’ll be locked up…Protect[ing] [the] rapist is more important than getting justice for the victim in Louisville.”

Attorneys for the two attackers filed a motion to have the girl found in contempt. She could have faced a $500 fine and six months in jail, probably more time than the boys will face.

The story spread quickly through blogs, news sites, social media and word of mouth. Public outcry was swift, condemning the lawyers, the attackers, and the judge, and praising Savannah Dietrich for her courage. Within a few days the motion had been dropped. One of the attorneys, David Meija, claimed that the public furor played no part in the decision. “The horse is out of the barn. Nothing is bringing it back,” he said, claiming that the only purpose of the motion was to enforce the law protecting the anonymity of the attackers.

It is hard to say whether or not Dietrich would have been found in contempt, or if a contempt finding would have been overturned later. She was not acting as a member of the media, and she had previously spoken about the details of her experience. The real upshot to this story has been twofold.

First, it has focused attention on the practice of maintaining secrecy in juvenile proceedings. Generally, I consider this to be a good thing, and the reasoning behind the practice is sound. The other facet of this case involves victims’ rights. What say should victims have in plea bargaining? What is the value of a deal that excludes the victim?

For me a solution would have involved Savannah from the very beginning. She would have been at the center of the process, and her needs would have been paramount. Next the needs of the attackers would have been taken into account, but not before hearing from the victim and her family about the damage they had done.

Perhaps if a process like this, a restorative process, had been used, she could have avoided the additional suffering she has been subjected to, the attackers could be dealt with, and the community would be safer.

Child Advocates Prepare to Rally in Cincinnati

Chaplain Daniel Rodriguez, a member of the New York Child Action Team, is ready for #CDFcon2012

CINCINNATI - Marian Wright Edelman sees this as a “do or die” moment for American democracy.

The first black woman to join the Mississippi bar, Edelman led the NAACP’s legal defense fund in Jackson in the 1960s. She’s seen her share of social injustice. But rising incarceration, poverty and social disparity in the United States is increasingly harming children and poor people, she says – the country’s most vulnerable groups -- while special interests and money control the political system.

It’s time for citizens to roll up their sleeves, she says.

Starting Sunday, about 3,000 researchers, educators, lawyers, community leaders and young people from around the country will congregate for four days in Cincinnati for the first conference in nine years organized by Edelman and the advocacy organization she founded in 1973, the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman and her staff have spent the last year planning the gathering, with the hope of galvanizing grassroots action when participants return to their communities.

“This is not a problem-wallowing or hand-wringing conference. It is a strategic, problem-solving conference,” Edelman said in a video inviting people to attend. “It is a conference for those who will stay the course until our children are set on a trajectory toward a hopeful future and are rescued from the pervasive poverty and illiteracy, racial disparities and incarceration that is destroying their futures. It is a conference for sharing and learning about effective community-building models, and steps you can take to implement them in your community, and your schools and congregations, and your cities and states.”

Half the participants will be young people aged 18 to 30, handpicked for their engagement in their communities, their commitment to leadership and social change, and for their diverse perspectives, said Wendy Shenefelt, head of CDF’s national youth leadership and development outreach. They’ll follow a special training track in nonviolent direct action, voter empowerment and community organizing skills, and attend daily wrap-up sessions to discuss what they have learned. In some sessions, youth will meet with civil-rights-era icons to directly learn strategies to implement change, Shenefelt said.

“We’ve tried to invite people of different viewpoints,” Shenefelt said, “We look for people who are already out there doing amazing work and who are seen as leaders in the young advocate world, but then we also look for young people who have gone through challenges, challenges that would have knocked anyone else off their feet but they have worked through them: children of incarcerated parents, young parents, teen parents, who have different opinions of how to fix the problem as well as what the problem really is.”

Youth Today and will be covering the conference with photos, video and stories on Twitter, Facebook  and on this home page. Follow us @youthtoday or @JJIEga or search for tweets from the conference with the hashtag “CDFcon2012.”

Speakers  include poet Maya Angelou, who will deliver the keynote, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who will present a video keynote on the economic importance of a quality early childhood education, and lawyer Bryan Stevenson of the Montgomery-Ala.,-based Equal Justice Initiative, who successfully argued the case against sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

The Children’s Defense Fund, on Twitter as @childdefender, is already anticipating a lot of Twitter activity by attendees.

“Dear Twitter: Get ready for next week. We're gonna blow you up...,” it tweeted on Thursday.

Photo from @CDFNewYork.

Of Organ Donors and Social Media

No one really questions how effective social media can be these days. Just look back across the wreckage of any number of despotic regimes in the Arab World or the 70 million plus views of a YouTube posting that may help lead to the downfall of a particularly brutal madman in central Africa and the Invisible Children at his mercy. Nor do you have to look afar for the good it can do, and in rapid fashion.

For the several hundred friends and acquaintances of 19-year-old Richard Bland, a scheduled visit by a gang of four young men from the now-cancelled MTV series The Buried Life was used to jazz up a little interest in the importance of organ donations and specifically young Richard’s need for a kidney.

The idea to engineer the mash up of social media and the visit by the Buried Life crew to Kennesaw State University north of Atlanta, sprang to life in the minds of some fraternity boys on a recent evening. One Tweet leads to another, and the one they got back from the Buried guys triggered a flood of interest. In a few hours, the cause was trending near the top of the Twitter world.

Here’s to Richard’s awaiting kidney.

Photo by Vanessa Schill |

Social Media Accounts Potentially Problematic for Scholarship Applicants

school house unlock locker 1 - JJIE Stock photoWhat’s the weight of that old Facebook post or YouTube video? Well, it could be a lot if you’re hunting for college scholarship money.

In a recent survey, about a quarter of college scholarship providers said they check applicant’s online presence before making final awards, or deciding not to.

The survey conducted by Fastweb, a scholarship search site, and the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA), a contingent of 300 scholarship providers awarding more than $1 billion annually, found that nearly a third of scholarship providers using social media and search to screen applicants have denied scholarship money based on information found online.

Providers use services such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter to vet perspective applicants.

These scholarship providers largely use social sites to seek out “red flags,” or questionable activity among applicants, that may reflect negatively on the provider.

However, screeners also look for positive traits, honing in on attributes like creativity, communication skills and demonstrations of good judgment. Nearly a quarter of those screening via social media said information found online helped support their original decision, proving social media has the potential to be both good and bad.

Facebook was by far the most popular, with 92 percent using the platform to vet applicants. About a quarter used LinkedIn or YouTube, and less than 10 percent used Twitter in the screening process.

Survey questions were submitted to the 300 NSPA members, of which about a quarter responded. A handful of respondents said they hadn't thought of screening via social media prior to receiving the survey questions, but planned on discussing it with their scholarship committees.

The Report, “Survey Concerning the Use of Web Search Sites and Social Media Sites for Evaluating Scholarship Applicants,” offers these tips for developing a professional online presence:

  1. Use an appropriate email address, such as Do not use offensive or sexually suggestive email addresses.
  2. Google your name and review at least the first ten pages of search results for inappropriate material. Correct any problems, if possible.
  3. Review your Facebook account, removing inappropriate and immature material and anything that may be misinterpreted. Remove pictures or videos that show illegal or questionable behavior. Avoid using profanity. Delete questionable posts by others on your wall. Ask an adult, such as a parent, to review your Facebook page to help you identify problematic material.
  4. Think twice before posting anything offensive, illegal or otherwise inappropriate.

Access the full report here.

Excerpt: "Survey Concerning the Use of Web Search Sites and Social Media Sites for Evaluating Scholarship Applicants"

Photo Credit: Clay Duda/JJIE Stock Photo

New Social Media Guidelines for Alcohol Companies to Prevent Advertising to Kids

general liquor in store 1 - stock photo, Clay Duda/JJIE StaffWant to interact with your favorite alcohol companies on Facebook? Then you better be able to legally take a drink.

Starting September 30, alcohol companies in the United States and Europe now have to consider a set of self-regulatory guidelines designed to prevent marketing their products to kids, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) issued these rules for advertising and marketing on all branded digital marketing communications, including social networking sites, websites, blogs, mobile communications and other applications.

Alcohol marketers already use age gates on their brand websites, requiring people to enter their birth date to prevent minors from accessing the sites. And they are restricted to advertising only to media where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is expected to be old enough to buy alcohol legally. Recent data from Nielson shows that more than 80 percent of people using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are older than 21, so marketing on these sites is allowed.

DISCUS and the European Forum for Responsible Drinking, developed these new guidelines as an attempt to keep up with technological advancements. Monitoring the rules, however, is expected to be a challenge.

A DISCUS spokesperson told the paper that the group will investigate companies that are not reported to be in compliance with the guidelines.

Several other new rules exist to protect people’s privacy and personal information, including the following:

  1. Brand marketing and product promotions must be clearly identified in media-like blogs.
  2. Instructions must be included encouraging people to only forward promotions to adults who are older than 21 years old.

For more information about alcohol, see JJIE’s resources about youth and drugs and alcohol.

Photo credit: Clay Duda/

SAMHSA Twitter Chat to be Held Today

Get your questions about recovery from addiction and treatment answered by experts during a Twitter chat held today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET and hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

This event will create a dialogue with experts in the recovery, treatment and prevention fields, to allow the public to ask questions and learn more information. They hope to spread the message that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.

This September #RecoveryChat will celebrate Recovery Month and will be co-hosted by Dr. Westley Clark, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Kathryn Power, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.

You can participate by following and tweeting with the #RecoveryChat hashtag on Twitter.

SAMHSA also encourages you to share your stories about planning or attending Recovery Month events, key discoveries of what worked or what didn’t work for you or others in recovery.

Many Recovery Month events are family-friendly but only a few are youth-focused, according to the Recovery Month team. In past years, organizations have also hosted kickball games and teen-focused forums.

If you’re not available for the chat, you can tweet your questions to @RecoveryMonth in advance, using the hashtag #RecoveryChat. Or if you aren’t on Twitter, but are interested in asking a question, you can post questions on the Recovery Month Facebook Page or send questions by email

An earlier chat held by SAMHSA in July focused on young people and recovery. The transcript of the chat can be read on the Recovery Month website.

Cutting Access to Social Media is Not the Answer in U.K. Riots


It was 5:34am when the hideous screech of the alarm finally woke me up. My wife was already in the kitchen on her second cup of coffee, clutching her iPad with determined eyes fixed to the screen. I kissed her on the head before pouring myself a cup as she glanced up at me quickly and without a word. Something wasn't right.

"Whatcha reading," I asked casually in an effort to seem unaware of her obvious discomfort.

"Have you seen the news," she countered.

I looked over her shoulder at the article she was reading. The headline jumped off the…paper, stabbing my eye as the roof above me crumbled.


I stood speechless as she put her head in her hands. We had spent our entire adult lives running a rock quarry, and in an instant our livelihood was stripped from us because some thugs used an otherwise valuable resource for evil. But I couldn't be upset with the decision of the president. I mean, I value life. No one should die that way.


Does this story seem ridiculous to you? It should. But it isn't far from what is currently happening in the United Kingdom. Prime Minister David Cameron gave police the authority to shut down the Blackberry, Twitter and Facebook networks in order to keep rioters -- apparently the overwhelmingly majority of them young people -- from organizing. My question, and I think the question we should be asking of leaders who insist on condemning social media without understanding it, is: what exactly are we condemning?

Martin Luther started a revolution that exposed exploitative practices of the Catholic church in the 16th Century that depended greatly on new technology, namely the printing press. His movement was propagated by pamphlets printed in several languages that informed citizens and debunked myth. Similarly, many would argue that the French Revolution wouldn't have happened without the printing press. Do we ban all forms of printing in an effort to avoid dissent? Do we ban gravel roads because rocks are easy weapons?

Books, radio, television and landline telephones have all been used as tools for communication that allowed individuals to share ideas, good and bad. And with each technological advance there has been an effort to suppress the lay citizen's access to the medium. Remember when churches used to burn books because they were seen as evil for challenging deeply held ideologies? Oh yeah, that is still happening.

Despite our best efforts, marginalized citizens will eventually find a way to organize. It has happened in almost every society in history. And what have we learned? Not to understand the usually legitimate complaints of the protestors, not to address the social issues that lead to disenfranchisement, but to react instinctively and strip dissenters of their rights.

I do not condone the violence that has taken place in the U.K., and I forcefully condemn those who are causing damage. But I also condemn leaders around the world and the media for not thoughtfully exploring the possible causes of agitation that led to this unfortunate display of anger and desperation.

And I'll give a warning to anyone that thinks a temporary ban on communication services and a violation of a person's freedom of speech is warranted in these situations: just because someone can't access Twitter doesn't mean she/he is going to give up. As we have seen in Libya, it is likely to cause even more anger. An all-out ban on something that may or may not have been used for "evil" is not only an assault on basic freedoms, but also a simplistic (non)solution to a much deeper problem.

Get the Most out of

As I am sure you've discovered is the best source for daily coverage of juvenile justice issues not just in Georgia, but around the United States. Every week thousands of people are logging on to find out what is happening in the lives of young people and in the issues they face. But did you know that many of the conversations taking place around our stories aren't happening on our website?

The JJIE community is a lively bunch, chiming in on issues from all corners of the web. Below are some ways you can connect with JJIE outside of this website:


  • Facebook. There are nearly 600 million users on Facebook, so chances are you have an account. We are very active there, publishing content daily and having great conversations with everyone who participates.
  • YouTube. The second largest search engine after Google, YouTube is a great place to find entertaining and informative content. We upload a weekly video that reviews our top stories from the week in a fast-paced, entertaining format. You'll also find interviews, opinions and lots of other great content there too!
  • Twitter. It's been said that Twitter is a lot like a cocktail  party, and we like to think of it that way too. Every day we get on Twitter with the goal of simply chatting with those of you who are interested in the issues that face children and teens. We'll pass along the stories we're reading, links to some of our trending content, plus we just enjoy hanging out with you in the digital space.
  • Tumblr. With three Tumblr accounts focusing on Bullying, Addiction and Trafficking, we are aggregating all of the information being shared on this platform that pertains to these three issues. Our goal is just to stay connected to all of you by not only providing a resource for you to find information on important issues, but also just to see what other people are sharing. We are aggregating information on Twitter around these same three issues as well as from an account dedicated solely to them.

Just to make this digital introduction a little more personal, let me introduce the faces behind these accounts:

I am Noah Echols, the Digital Media Manager at When I'm not fiddling with the website, you'll find me out there on Facebook and Twitter looking for stimulating conversations.


Clay Duda is a Digital Media Specialist at When he isn't shooting or editing video, he's replying to all your comments, questions and suggestions on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit.


And last, but certainly not least, Lindsay Oberst is the newest member of our digital media team. She is our brilliant social media intern and the face behind those Tumblr accounts.


I really hope that you'll not only visit the other places around the web that we're posting content, but that you'll join the conversation there. Hit the "like" button on Facebook, the "subscribe" button on YouTube, the "Follow" button on Twitter, or the "follow" button on Tumblr so that you'll get regular updates. We will never spam you or overload your inbox with information, but we do promise to continue to provide you with high quality content every day.