Jennifer Bennett first met her date, Thomas Bray, on Match.com. They got together at a bistro in downtown Bend, Oregon, then afterwards they went together to Bray's condo -- which was directly across the street -- for a glass of wine. Soon afterwards, Bennett was beaten, raped, and strangled until she passed out.
The attack sounds nightmarish enough, but it got worse when Bennett decided to pursue charges against Bray: his defense attorneys ordered her to turn over her Google search history to learn what she had looked up before and after her assault. Not only that, they asked for access to her Facebook account, her email, and her personal journals.
Does this scare the crap out of you? Because it should.
The reason Bray's lawyers wanted Bennett to turn over her Google searches is because they wanted to show that she'd searched for the definition of rape around the time of the February 2011 attack. Bray's defense was that their sex was rough but consensual, and attorneys believed Bennett's Internet history would show she had looked for a way to press charges after regretting the encounter.
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Man, this freaks me out big-time. Not that I think a victim's story should be accepted without question, or that this case wasn't worthy of being investigated, but digging through someone's Internet footprint to prove she had doubts about whether she'd been raped? That's just scary. I mean, I can imagine myself Googling all sorts of things after a violent attack like that, including what my best legal options might be.
Not to mention the fact that someone's private search history could easily be used against them in a case like this. What if you searched BDSM topics or watched porn? Does that mean you deserve to be assaulted?
A person's Internet activity isn't a sacred, protected domain -- if you're up on murder charges, police should be able to see if you searched for the best ways to hide a body. But in this case, Bennet had done what they tell victims to do: she'd gone straight to the authorities after the incident, preserving the evidence of the attack despite her desire to wash it all away:
I had a decision to make: "Do I take a shower?" I stared at my shower. And I decided not to do it.
I can only imagine how enduring the demands for her private online information felt like being victimized all over again. Luckily for Bennett, a judge didn't penalize her for refusing to turn over her searches or journals. Ultimately, a jury found Gray guilty of rape, sodomy, strangulation, and assault.
Bennett's experience is becoming increasingly common these days. Defense attorneys have successfully subpoenaed rape victims' journals, Facebook and Twitter entries, and much more. Everything becomes fair game, and it's no wonder statistics show that more than half of rape victims choose not to report the crime.
As Bennett said,
You make Internet searches all the time but you never think that anyone is going to be looking in and using that as a reason as a defense over something horrific that happened to you. (...) Yes, I was raped. It doesn't make me a bad person. I didn't make poor choices. I was not the criminal.
Here's a video of Bennett talking about her experience on the Today show:
Do you think someone's Internet history should be open for review during a rape case?
Image via Today