Unapologetically candid, the Netflix documentary “Audrie & Daisy” prompted viewers to understand the antics and repercussions sexual assaulters and, to a much-needed higher degree, victims live with in the wake of the crime. Two girls’ stories from 2012 were explored: then 15-year-old Saratoga, CA, native Audrie Pott and then 14-year-old Maryville, MO, resident Daisy Coleman.
Audrie’s case was thoroughly flushed out through interviews with her family, childhood friend and two of the assailants, whom were kept anonymous both in name and face. As each interviewee’s fragments slowly constructed what happened that horrid night, it became apparent that Audrie was absent to tell her side of the story.
Without going into too much detail, Audrie attended a party where alcohol was present. Later that night, she was passed out when a group of boys decided it would be funny to strip her down and draw all over her body. The vandalism included vulgarities and arrows pointing to her genitalia. One of the boys even sexually assaulted her. Photos from that night were shared among the boys in Audrie’s class. She became a target of online and offline bullying. It was not made clear until the end of the segment that Audrie committed suicide. She was 16 years old.
Daisy faced similar harassment in the days following her assault. She and her friend Paige, who is a year younger, were assaulted in the basement of a high school upperclassman. They were thoroughly inebriated while in the presence of a group of older boys who were good friends of Daisy’s older brother. Paige was raped shortly after arriving – Daisy was raped, which was also incidentally recorded on video, toward the end of the party.
What should be recognized is the swiftness on the county sheriff’s part. All of the boys involved in the assault were rounded up and questioned. The chase boiled down to the two assailants (the other boys involved were witnesses). Paige’s rapist admitted to his crime with little resistance, but Daisy’s rapist was harder to crack, though he did plead guilty in the end. Despite the confessions, all charges were dropped.
The high school Daisy attended went into social chaos, with Daisy being the main target for harsh bullying while her rapist was deemed the real victim. She attempted suicide multiple times but failed, her mother lost her job due to the case’s publicity and her brother was ostracized by his classmates. Even the Coleman house experienced vandalism and was eventually burned down. But through all of these trials, the taunts never let up.
Although there is a lot of heavy subject matter, there is at least some positivity by the end of “Audrie and Daisy.” Audrie was the recipient of an honorary diploma postmortem, much to the approval of the school; Daisy graduated with a sports scholarship for college, stronger than ever. However, the reality is that we as a society are far from resolution.
The Maryville sheriff that headed the investigation of Daisy’s case stated that the boys who were involved in the sex crime “want to put [the case] behind them .. make something of themselves” and that they were going off to college. He goes on to say that the “fatal flaw in our society is that it’s always the [boys’ fault]… but girls have as much culpability as boys do in this world.” This is a fair statement, but should be applied accordingly in criminal cases. Misdirection of this kind of logic can result in bits of evidence being lost in translation, and that does no one justice.
Other than the unfortunate circumstances that each of the titular girls experienced, one of the most important and bleak themes brought up in “Audrie and Daisy” was how it takes an enormous amount of courage to speak up about an assault, but an even greater amount in order to stand up for yourself in the public eye. It takes a lot of patience and support from others in order to see the value in yourself when everyone else around you puts you down.
As Daisy said, “doing away with yourself is the only way to fix things,” which may seem right at first, but is far from the truth.
The relevance of this documentary is more evident than ever as more sexual assault cases are being brought to the nation’s attention. Talks on sexual assault are becoming more common on campuses everywhere, and “Audrie and Daisy,” wrentching as it is to watch, is another step in the right direction for safer communities.
Although there is a lot of negativity that comes attached to discussions on assault, it is important to acknowledge that resources like Title IX coordinators, on and off-campus therapists and support groups create safe spaces for survivors.
When it comes time to come to terms with an assault, whether it involves you, a friend or someone you’re acquanted with, forgiveness is often overlooked. That is not to say that all should be forgotten – instead, the past should be forgiven.
Stepping across that threshold can open the world up and allow people to move on with life. One of the biggest takeaways from the documentary is that “you can’t ignore an army of voices.” And while forgiveness is a difficult and underrated form of coping, we should still challenge ourselves to stop the shame.