Rape victim fights off demand for Facebook, computer records

A rape victim is stunned when defense lawyers demand her Facebook, computer, and search engine records. Her own lawyers persuade a judge that such a demand is ludicrous and the rapist gets 25 years.

Jennifer Bennett. NBC Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

There is no defense for rape.

And yet the classic tactic for defense lawyers is to turn the victim into someone who might have contributed to her own violation.

25-year-old Jennifer Bennett of Bend, Ore., was stunned to hear the tactics defense lawyers tried to use against her.

Having met Thomas Bray, an anesthesiologist and teacher at a local community college on Match.com, she thought her first date was going well.

Until she was subjected to a brutal five hours of being strangled, beaten, and sexually assaulted by Bray.

She pressed charges. The defense lawyers subpoenaed her computer records -- everything from her Facebook activity, e-mail, and even her Google searches -- in order to find, well, you decide.

They wanted a month's worth before the attack and a month's after.

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As NBC's "Today Show" reported, Bennett and her lawyer decided to fight.

"I was not the criminal," Bennett told the TV program, "so investigating me and my life -- it just didn't seem right."

She said she never imagined that someone would want to use her Google searches as a defense for what had happened.

"It's a relevant as if she'd Googled how to make chilli," said her lawyer, Jennifer Coughlin.

Bennett and Coughlin refused to honor the subpoena. A judge agreed with their actions and Bray was given 25 years.

Sadly, everyone's online activity is increasingly being used by everyone from employers, potential employers, and the legal system in order to characterize personality.

"There was an evening there where there was a very real possibility that I could be held in contempt of court," Bennett told the "Today Show."

Coughlin said this case and her and Bennett's resistance represented a new legal precedent.

"She was doing it for all victims," said Coughlin.

"I didn't do anything to deserve this," emphasized Bennett.

One can only hope that she can now enjoy life as much as she is able, in an atmosphere of love, knowing that Bray is behind bars and her online activity remains hers.

One also hopes that others in her situation won't be intimidated by the idea that defense lawyers can attempt to use technological history to find some twisted way to justify the unjustifiable.

 

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