by Emily Reuben
With the sudden surge of teens in the headlines, I think it’s appropriate to highlight another documentary that showcases activism by American youth. This week we are going to look at a film that highlights the perils faced by young people when they are not listened to: Netflix’s Audrie and Daisy.
The documentary focuses on Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two high school students who both experienced cyberbullying, vandalism, and exclusion after being sexually assaulted.
Audrie Pott, a student at Saratoga high school in California, had gone to a party with a group of peers. While she was unconscious, a group of boys violated her and shared pictures of the assault amongst their peers under the guise of “a prank.” After the images of Audrie circulated around her school, other students taunted her.
It’s no secret that sexual assault is a major issue in our society. What is even more terrifying, however, is the added effect social media has on the victims after the fact. In the case of Audrie and Daisy, pictures were shared amongst their high school peers and intense cyberbullying ensued, going so far as to provoke Audrie Pott to take her own life.
Daisy and her friend Paige Parkhurst were sexually assaulted in the house of some older boys who had given the pair alcoholic drinks. One of the boys was a star on the high school football team and the grandson of a local politician. Despite confessions of giving alcohol to the pair and having sex with the girls, the people who assaulted Daisy and Paige had their case dismissed.
No one in any position of power believed what these girls were saying. The legal system did not care that these girls aged 14 and 13 said that they were raped and assaulted. At one point in the documentary, the sheriff insinuates that Paige and Daisy were “making a lot of things up that really didn’t happen…” He then went on to insinuate that the reason the girls were making this up was to get attention and because society pressures girls to be pretty, popular, and well-liked.
After the charges were dismissed, the entire incident became a national headline, even reaching the point where the hacktivist collective Anonymous threatened to bring justice to Daisy’s town if the justice system would not.
Daisy and her family finally got their day in court and no charges were filed. After the courts found the boys innocent, the online hate started pouring in. People in Paige’s town started making threats, vandalizing Paige’s house, lost her mother a job, and ultimately ended up burning her house to the ground.
“[Daisy] started to really feel like it was her fault… She burned herself. And every door in the house upstairs is broken, because we’ve had to kick it in to save her when she’s tried to overdose.”
But in this dark place, there was a light. Delaney Henderson, another young woman who was sexual assaulted, reached out to Daisy and said, “I’ve… dealt with the same emotions of wanting everything to end. I just want you to never feel alone again. I’m here.” After this message is shown, the scene shifts to show a gathering of high school survivors. Gathered around a table, Daisy, Delaney, other girls, and their mothers all go around listening to each survivor talk about what happened to them. Here the music starts to swell as feelings of solidarity are shared between the people gathered.
The documentary ends with the group of survivors gave public speeches for the National Press Club with the help of the group Pave (Promoting awareness, victim empowerment). The girls make direct pleas to those listening. “Since my friends didn’t stand up for me, I urge other people to speak out… because the words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.”
A brief montage shows social media posts from the survivors showing that they are doing well. Their experiences are things that happened to them; they do not define them. The ending title card shows the title of the documentary, Audrie & Daisy. As the music continues to swell, more names appear: “&Paige,” “&Delaney,” “&Jane_Doe.”
Audrie & Daisy shows what happens when the well being and individual voices of young women are ignored. However, there is still hope for change. As brave women like Daisy, Page, Delaney, and the others who appeared in this film share their stories and as people listen, there may be a better future. This documentary is full of power, truth, tragedy, and hope. It is one of the hardest documentaries for me to have ever finished but also one of the most important to see through to the end.
Come back next week, as we continue to find powerful stories and Document Docs.