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Audrie & Daisy review: Netflix documentary exposes epidemic of sexual assault culture among teenagers

The documentary tells the stories of two girls who were raped in the same year. Both tried to end their lives. Only one survived. The other is playing a crucial role in educating today's youth about the dangers of social media, sexual assault and not speaking out on behalf of your friends

Rachael Revesz
New York
Tuesday 20 September 2016 14:19 BST
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The girls' stories illustrate a worryingly 'normalised' culture of sexual assault among today's teenagers
The girls' stories illustrate a worryingly 'normalised' culture of sexual assault among today's teenagers (YouTube / Audrie & Daisy)

“My life is over.”

Those were the last words on Facebook of Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old who took her own life 10 days after a group of boys covered her unconscious body with permanent marker and raped her.

When Audrie woke up, she found the boys - her classmates, and friends - had written “here”, with an arrow next to her vagina. She got in touch with the boys on social media, demanding to know what had happened and why the whole school was talking about her. She said she felt she had done something wrong.

“Everyone messes up,” one of the perpetrators replied.

A few days later, her mother found her hanging in the shower.

On the other side of the country, 14-year-old Daisy Coleman was allegedly raped while she was intoxicated and unconscious in her brother’s friend’s basement, while her friend, 13-year-old Paige Parkhurst, was raped in the next room.

Daisy did not take her own life in the end, but she tried, many times. Her mother said all the doors in the house were broken. The family had had to break down the doors to stop her from overdosing.

Shame, guilt, abuse and self-harm: Survivors of sexual assault say that the aftermath of an attack is worse than the assault itself.

A year after the groundbreaking documentary The Hunting Ground exposed the epidemic of sexual assault across campuses in the US, the new Netflix documentary, Audrie & Daisy, tells the stories of two teenage girls who were assaulted in 2012, and how they were traumatised for a second time in the ensuing backlash after the crimes became known.

Their stories spell out a larger trend, an rising tide of rape and sexual assault across the country, most commonly among teenagers, according to filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk.

There is no narration; the victims tell their own stories, and in Audrie’s case, the filmmakers rely on her family and friends.

“This isn’t happening when parents are sending their kids away to institutions. This is happening under their own roofs,” said Ms Cohen.

“That is a real trigger for an emotional response to a story like this and that’s why it's getting attention.”

The girls’ stories have already received a lot of press, covering the ins and outs of the backlash against them, their suicide and suicide attempts.

The charges against the alleged perpetrators in Daisy’s case were dropped. Hackers from Anonymous got involved in October 2013, accusing the Maryville justice system of being “corrupt” and “cowardly”, keeping a spotlight on a small town that seemed so unwilling to accept the crime.

The stories are accompanied by haunting music throughout. The filmmakers portray Daisy’s assault in the dark basement, where she is fed alcohol and separated from her friend, as disturbingly calculated. As she is raped, the perpetrator’s friends come in to take a video.

The documentary has the potential to transform the way the viewer might think about rape. It underlines the violence of the act, the lack of empathy or remorse among the perpetrators, who are capable of awful things behind closed doors. It is no longer “just a rape”. It is a horrifying, brutal act of control that has devastating effects on victims and survivors.

“Having come out of the film and having seen live audiences react, as well as meeting Daisy and Delaney, [another rape victim], and meeting teenagers and young people, we do feel uplifted,” Ms Cohen told The Independent.

“We feel hopeful about the bravery of these young girls speaking out and hopefulness of the story of Daisy’s older brother Charlie, who tells the story from the male perspective and who is doing such good work to work on these issues.”

Not everyone was supportive of the girls. Both victims received a barrage of abuse and insults online. Daisy’s house burnt down in 2012 as the family were trying to sell it. Paige received a car load of mutilated rabbits.

In the small town of Maryville, Missouri, where she grew up, sheriff Darren White told the filmmakers that young girls faced a lot of pressure to be “pretty and popular”.

“But don’t underestimate the need for attention, especially young girls,” he said.

Ms Cohen said they had a responsibility to give a voice to everyone in the story.

“We felt it was really important to see where law enforcement sits on these issues. Did we agree with him? Not always. Yes, it was tough. But what really moved us was making sure we asked him hard questions and let the stories speak for themselves.”

Perpetrator Matthew Barnett, a football player and the grandson of a state representative, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanour, and was sentenced to two years' probation. The boy who assaulted Paige pleaded guilty and was sentenced in juvenile court.

The filmmakers gained a 45-minute interview with the boys who raped Audrie, as part of the settlement in a wrongful death suit filed in 2013, which Ms Cohen and Mr Shenk described as the most difficult part of the two-year process.

“It was tough, they were in bad shape,” said Ms Cohen.

“They had been through the criminal proceeding. They were coming out of it, they had done something horrible as young men. We were sitting opposite two young broken men. It was tragic.”

The solution, they say, is more education. Young people need to be guided through what is wrong and right before they have a true ability to work it out for themselves.

“They don’t always have sex ed or health classes about the responsibility of communicating online or when you’re at a party when drinking is going on,” said Mr Shenk.

“The fundamental level here is beyond policy, it’s about civilisation and how we relate to each other as people.”

The filmmakers said they have watched Daisy become more confident. She is now an artist, seeking help when she needs it, and is speaking at high schools, warning about the dangers of people’s friends not speaking out to help others. Her brother Charlie, a Little League baseball coach, has taken it upon himself to give fatherly advice to the young sports players, working to help the next generation view women as equals.

At the end of the documentary, Audrie’s mother, Sheila, goes to her daughter’s graduation, three years after her death. Audrie is awarded an honorary degree by her former best friend. As her class throw up their mortarboards, excited for their future, her mother smiles.

It shows incredibly bravery. If she can remain hopeful, then so can we.

Audrie & Daisy streams on Netflix on 23 September.

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