You cannot deny the reach and power of social media.
This can be a good thing when there’s a positive message to send, but all too often bullying and online harassment seems to spread the fastest and farthest — leading to long-damaging effects to those on the receiving end. There are countless heartbreaking stories today of young adults committing suicide over bullying and public shame.
In a day and age when everyone has an opinion and a phone in their pocket, social media can quickly turn into a weapon that equates to that of a new-age social guillotine on display for all to see and comment on.
This is a widespread problem among teens that compounds an already-stressful time in their lives — an issue Netflix’s upcoming documentary Audrie and Daisy brings to the forefront.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and will be widely available on Netflix on September 23, to hopefully open up a national dialogue on the trauma that teens face today regarding digital shaming, especially in cases of sexual assault.
Audrie and Daisy is a film about real-life teenage sexual assault victims Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman who were not acquainted, but suffered the same humiliating experience of having their sexual assaults recorded and shared amongst their peers.
Both girls experienced severe harassment in their respective communities. Audrie was so traumatized by what happened to her after the assault that she ended her life a week later.
The three teenage boys that assaulted Audrie and wrote lewd messages on her body were given ultra-light sentences, and the charges against the teenage boy in Daisy’s case were ultimately dropped.
Daisy and her family left town after their home in Marysville, Missouri was set on fire and burned to the ground. Daisy, who also made an attempt on her life, now speaks out so that other underage victims feel like they have a voice and know they aren’t alone in a culture that punishes victims for coming forward.
The film gives faces and names to victims of sexual assault that commonly endure public scrutiny, victim-blaming, and a clear, vocal concern that they won’t get the justice they deserve.
Film directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, also the parents of teenagers, released the following statement about the film:
“Unfortunately, the story of drunken high school parties and sexual assault is not new. But today, the events of the night are recorded on smartphones and disseminated to an entire community and, sometimes, the nation. Such was the case for Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two teenage girls, living thousands of miles apart but experiencing the same shame from their communities. While the subject matter is dark, we are inspired by these stories to make a film that captures these truths but can also help audiences digest the complexities of the world teenagers live in today.”
Assaults are often photographed or videotaped as a form of a trophy. Pictures and cell phone videos played a huge role in the Vanderbilt rape trial. The footage of the sexual assault of a woman in a dorm room by several football players ultimately led to the convictions of former players Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, though valiant attempts were made to discard it. Two other players are currently awaiting their day in court.
Despite the obvious video evidence, the victim in the Vanderbilt case also experienced scrutiny and victim-blaming by members of the public because she had been drinking and Vandenburg was her boyfriend.
But there’s hope. Social media has also proven valuable in giving voice to those that feel like they are silenced after being raped.
The victim in the Stanford rape case read her victim impact statement aloud to Brock Turner in open court at his sentencing, and it was then published in its entirety by Buzzfeed and even read live on air by CNN anchor Ashleigh Bradford.
In her 13-page statement, she detailed the many ways she has suffered from that day forward, and then took the opportunity to reach out and offer hope and solace to other victims:
“When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you, I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting. I believe you … I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”
To date, the Stanford rape victim’s statement has been shared over 1.7 million times, and the impact it’s had is undeniable. Those 13 pages sparked a renewed national conversation around rape culture and victim blaming. Those 13 pages cracked open a door to high schools and universities rethinking their policies on sexual assault and prevention.
Though Audrie and Daisy may not have been given the same opportunity following their assaults, by sharing their stories now, they too are helping to change the conversations we’re having around sexual assaults — something we’ve so desperately been needing to have for some time.