Good Wife, Good Law: Rape, Anonymous, and Digital Freedom
With only two episodes left in season 4, "The Good Wife" turned its focus on a hot-button issue: digital activism.
What some viewers may not realize is that this episode is almost entirely based on a recent rape case in Ohio involving a football team, an underage girl, Anonymous, and political corruption.
Recap: 'Rape: A Modern Perspective'
In this episode, the firm takes on a young client named Rainey. She brings a civil suit against Todd, a student who raped her but avoided prison in a plea bargain. Introducing the tension between criminal justice and freedom of speech, Rainey is jailed for violating a gag order when she Tweets that she was raped by Todd.
The theme comes to a head when Alicia tells returning Bitcoin client Dylan Stack about Rainey's case. Soon after, Alicia's kids start receiving video and photos on their phones with shocking evidence that proves Todd's guilt. As it turns out, the files were sent by Dylan's pals, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous. The digital activists even make a masked appearance in court to show their support for the victim.
The inspiration of the episode's storyline is the recent case out of Steubenville, Ohio, about members of a star football team who allegedly sexually assaulted an incapacited classmate, and recorded much of it for social media. Just like the episode, Anonymous leaked a video that captures a few of the players joking about the alleged victim.
The episode's story is sadly a growing problem one in real life. A case in California has developed with eerily similar facts about a 15-year-old who killed herself as a result of a recorded allged sexual batttery.
In the Ohio rape case, the members of Anonymous showed up in court to protest what they felt was a corrupt legal process. Their most disturbing claim, found in the Democracy Now transcript, is that the football players were not being fully prosecuted because the prosecutor was in on a cover-up, along with the team's coach. Anonymous alleges that acts of sexual assault against the victim were committed at the prosecutor's house, which raises serious questions about a tainted case.
The legal issues involved in this case are pretty meta and raise a number of questions on evidence, privacy, and freedom of speech. The episode highlights a central question in the case: How should the judicial process deal with apparently reliable evidence that is obtained illegally?
The class-action suit that Dylan Stack brings to Alicia is also, of course, based on a real event about digital activism and how open the Internet should be. Dylan even mentions Aaron Swartz, the hacker activist who committed suicide after facing a brutal federal indictment for releasing JSTOR articles to the public. Dylan's class-action case is about prosecutorial overcharging of hacking acts, which is something many people are expecting to happen because of Swartz's death.
On a side note, the prophetic powers of this episode are pretty uncanny. First, this episode somehow predicted that Anonymous would be threatening to reveal the names of the rapists of Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide just last week after being cyber-bullied. You also have to furrow your eyebrows at their prediction of Bitcoin being on the news this week. You've gotta love "The Good Wife" and their powers of prediction.
- Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City (New York Times)
- 'Anonymous' Hacks Virginia Law Firm's Website, Posts KRS-One Rap Video (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- The Legal Legacy of Aaron Swartz (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Ohio Rape Victim Threatened Online; 2 Girls Arrested (FindLaw's Blotter)
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