OUR THOUGHTS ON “AUDRIE & DAISY”
Last Friday, Netflix released its new documentary “Audrie & Daisy” which investigates two cases of sexual assault at two different U.S. high schools. After their assault, both girls were subject to bullying on social media. Tragically, Audrie died by suicide following her rape (which was photographed by boys in the room and shared among her classmates). Daisy’s attempt to see her rapist prosecuted for his crimes encountered multiple roadblocks and she struggles throughout the film to find peace.
We watched “Audrie & Daisy” this week. Here are our thoughts about what we as society can learn from the film:
THE CHALLENGES OF HIGH SCHOOL
Audrie was 15 at the time of her assault and Daisy was 14 when she was raped by an older boy. It’s amazing the role that “status” plays in these cases and it reflects the pressure that girls feel. Like when Daisy and her friend Paige decide “We would be cool if we hang out and drink with those guys.” It was heartbreaking to read a message Audrie sent to one of her guy friends shortly before her death when he tried to assure her that the gossip and abuse would blow over “u have no idea what it’s like to be a girl.” Many of us recognize those feelings.
The fact that victims at this age are more vulnerable and have developed fewer methods of coping with trauma in their young lives means that teen suicide, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other coping mechanisms also increase in correlation to these assaults.
Teaching consent and respect at an early age is important and prevention education is key. It was shocking to hear at the very beginning of the film when one of the perpetrators was asked, “Did you know what you did was a crime?” and he answered “no.” He did not think that writing obscene words on Audrie’s body while she was unconscious was a type of abuse and certainly not a crime. He did not know that fingering her, even if it was for “one second” is rape.
We don’t need to just teach consent to young people (though that is very important) but also to adults. So many of the adults in this documentary are completely clueless about consent and it’s clear that the boys who committed these crimes weren’t hearing consistently and clearly from the adults in their lives that it’s not OK to treat a girl or a woman this way. What if consent education was a mandatory and ongoing part of training for law enforcement, public officeholders, educators and athletic coaches?
VICTIM BLAMING AND RAPE CULTURE
We need to stop rape culture and victim blaming in our culture. All of the girls featured in the film felt shame, guilt and responsibility for what happened to them. They feel like they “screwed up.” Paige (Daisy’s friend who was 13 at the time she was raped) shares: “There’s so much I wish I would have done – like fight back.” And while drinking and sneaking out to meet up with older boys like Daisy and Paige did isn’t a responsible thing to do,it is normal to see this behavior among teens and that does not make it right for someone to assault them.
It's also disheartening to hear so many people in power, including Sheriff Darren White of Nodaway County, MO and the mayor of Maryville make statements that perpetuate rape culture. The mayor and the sheriff in Daisy’s case couldn’t stop talking about how safe their town in and how a rape case only creates a false picture of who they are. It was more important to shield the boys who are popular in the community than to seek justice for the girls. In Daisy’s lawyer’s words, “the wrong boy raped her.”
It was hard for us to watch Sheriff White tell the filmmakers that he doesn’t consider what happened to Daisy to be rape. “The word ‘rape’ is very popular,” he says. When the filmmakers point out that Daisy was either unconscious or semi-conscious that doesn’t even seem to faze him. How can Nodaway County’s chief law enforcement official not know the law? How could any person who lives in that county feel confident that if they report their own rape or sexual assault they will be taken seriously? Sheriff White says, “Don’t underestimate the need for attention. Especially for young girls,” despite the fact that false accusations of sexual assault are extremely rare.
The responsibility of not only preventing the assault but also getting past it, seems to rest solely on the shoulders of the victims. Not only are these girls being blamed for having been assaulted, they are blamed for their reactions (“Why can’t they just move on, like the boys have?”).
Bystander intervention could have changed the outcome of these cases. Daisy’s brother points out what a big difference it would have made if one of his friends at Matt’s house had let him know his sister was there and was intoxicated. Audrie’s friend Amanda left the party before the assault took place knowing that Audrie was extremely drunk. What if these teenagers had been taught about bystander intervention and ways to step in when something doesn’t feel right?
This is a movie less about social media as a harmful tool and more about social media as an extended limb on the gigantic monster that is a community refusing to support survivors. It seems that the community members who were not directly involved with the online taunting and bullying were just as harmful in ignoring it as a problem.
At the same time, Delaney (another survivor of sexual assault and social media threats) found Daisy via social media and that’s where the healing process really began for Daisy.
A bright spot in the movie was when the survivors regained the sense of community and belonging that was stolen from them. They created support groups and reached out to one another for strength. The ending of the film does a good job of combating that sheriff’s comment -- life does go on for survivors like Daisy and Delaney. And they will make something of themselves by fighting to tell their stories.
These stories need to be shared. If Audrie had heard stories of survivors or if she had heard that rape is never the victim’s fault no matter what, she may have felt like she had a different choice.
What Can We Do?
“Audrie & Daisy” was frustrating to watch because stories like these have been around for years and it seems like nothing has changed. At the same time, it was heartening to see survivors banding together and becoming empowered to give voice to their experience.
If you watched the film and wonder “What can we do to make progress?” take a look at the “Audrie & Daisy” website, which includes resources like free lesson plans for educators, discussion guides for parents, and concrete action steps for health professionals, law enforcement, school administrators and students. If we’re going to put a stop to the violence, all of us need to take action to stop the culture that perpetuates these horrible crimes.
That is why Catharsis Productions brings a profound passion to starting important conversations about sexual assault, harassment, racial discrimination and violence. Our programs have been presented to over 1,000,000 people in college campuses, military bases and in the workplace. If you’re interested in bringing our programs to your campus click here to learn more.