With the 2015 release of The Hunting Ground and the recent uproar and scrutiny of the Brock Turner case in Stanford, CA, the continuous debate revolving around the idea of rape culture lingers in the media. So, when the documentary Audrie & Daisy was recently released, the film’s premise intrigued me. – A look at rape culture from the teenage girl’s perspective and the role that social media plays as a 21st Century scaffold for slut-shaming.
Released in 2016 by Netflix, the documentary follows the aftermath of three high school rape cases. The viewer is first introduced to the case of Audrie Potts. A 15-year-old high school student from Saratoga, CA, who commits suicide 8 days after being sexual assaulted and bullied online. The film then delves into the case of Daisy Coleman, a Maryville, MO teen whose sexual assault at 14-years-old led to a media firestorm against her and the small town. The two cases are then tied together with the story of Delaney Henderson. An outspoken teenage advocate and survivor of sexual assault.
As the film opens, the voiceover from an interviewer is heard speaking to the two young men at the center of the Audrie Potts case. It’s explained that their identities would be protected via animation and fake names. A tool it appeared directors, Bonnie Cohen and John Shenk, used to gain as much cooperation and access as possible from all parties involved. With Audrie no longer able to recall her account of the 2012 night in question, it was left up to the boys and Audrie’s social media accounts to outline the events that led to her taking her own life.
My heart wrenched for Audrie. In the days that followed her assault, we learn how she became her own investigator into her case. Desperately, she tried to piece together what happened through her classmates’ perspectives, gossip, and ridicule – both at school and online. Even more heartbreaking are the Facebook chats between Audrie and one of the accused. As the words moved across the screen, we see Audrie become unraveled by her “ruined” reputation. It is a raw, black and white look inside how small the world seems as a teenager and how constrained and socially restrictive that it can feel for a teenage girl.
The focus is then turned to the Maryville case and the Coleman family as they recall the events that led to Daisy’s 2012 assault. We are also introduced to Sheriff White who handled the investigation into the accusations of rape. The addition of Sheriff White’s interview and interrogation tapes provided a 360-degree look of the case – even without words from the accused. The Sheriff’s interview also helped to spotlight the “small town mentality” that sparked the critical examination of the investigation and massive media scrutiny.
From the moment Sheriff White comes on-screen, he made it clear that the case was taken very seriously and handled swiftly and correctly. However, following the wake of the media circus, he is filmed stating that “this case never rose to the level of rape,” and claimed that Daisy’s fight for justice and the consequences of the case are “one of the real fatal flaws of our society, – It isn’t always the boys…Girls have as much culpability in this world as boys do.”
The full access the filmmakers were given by all those involved really showed how polarizing the issues of teenage sex and rape culture are in this country. Which makes Audrie & Daisy all the more poignant when discussing sexual assault and societal attitudes regarding gender and sexuality, especially when these biases and social constructs have only been magnified with the advent of social media
I would encourage everyone to watch this documentary for a well-rounded look at the many points of view on the subject of sexual assault as well as a look into the world of teenage girls and how social media shapes it.