By Monica Short, MCASA Program Intern
Sexual assault is often perpetrated at events meant for fun, such as parties, and can be exacerbated when young people have access to drugs and alcohol. When a survivor wakes up after a drug or alcohol-facilitated sexual assault, it may be intensely traumatizing as they start to piece together the events. Now, with technology widely available to record sexual assault, and social media providing an easy way to spread pictures and videos, sexual assault has additional long-lasting impacts in addition to its immediate emotional, physical, and psychological impacts. In this quarter’s issue of Safety Sync, we examine these issues through a discussion of the recent Netflix documentary film Audrie & Daisy.
Audrie & Daisy focuses on the extensive impact of technology and cyberbullying on sexual assault cases and survivors. Audrie and Daisy are two teenage girls who are sexually assaulted by male peers at parties. Audrie and Daisy live in two very different towns in different geographical regions in the United States, demonstrating that these situations can happen anywhere. In Audrie’s case, the perpetrators shared pictures of the assault amongst their peers. Although the perpetrators in Daisy’s case allegedly filmed the assault, the footage was deleted and was never discovered by police. However, social media had a powerful impact on Daisy too, as her peers attacked and disparaged her with intense online bullying. In both situations, the already traumatized survivors were retraumatized repeatedly by victim-blaming comments and threats. Making matters worse, cases like these sometimes receive a great deal of media attention and scrutiny from people outside of the survivor’s community.
While we appreciate that the documentary does bring to light the prevalence and far-reaching impacts of cyberbullying and sexual assault, the film does have some weaknesses when it comes to survivor visibility. Audrie and Daisy are both attractive, white, able-bodied, apparently straight cis-gender females from middle class families. They are ‘quintessential’ American girls, and they completely fit the stereotype of the “perfect” sexual assault victim. The documentary missed the mark in terms of demonstrating that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. There were no stories from Black, Latinx, Asian, Indian, transgender, lesbian, gay, or bisexual survivors. There were no stories from survivors with developmental or physical disabilities, or Autistic survivors. These populations are frequently rendered invisible in discussion of sexual assault. Future documentaries and discussions on the subject of sexual violence should include survivor stories from individuals in these more traditionally underserved populations in order to demonstrate that sexual violence affects everyone, and better reflect the diverse lived experiences of survivors.
Audrie & Daisy encourages parents to have conversations with youth about the dangers and gravity of social media and sexual assault--to remind adolescents that they are often directly exposed to or involved in victim-blaming and cyberbullying, and thus have the ability and responsibility to stop it. Having these conversations can be emotionally difficult given the nature of topic, but also can be immensely empowering. On the film’s website, discussion questions and topics are provided for parents looking to have these conversations with their children. Promoting healthy discussions and awareness of the problem of sexual assault in our communities will ultimately help us to change the culture around violence.
To learn more about this film, visit the website: http://www.audrieanddaisy.com/