“u don’t know what it’s like to be a girl”
There’s a great moment towards the end of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk‘s documentary Audrie & Daisy where Sheriff Darren White starts preaching how boys can be victims and girls at fault as easy as the other way around. He’s not wrong and Cohen’s voice is heard agreeing, but the statement doesn’t apply. She quickly steers the issue back on point because the children who committed the crime in question were boys. You can’t skirt one issue by bringing up a wholly different one that seems contextually relevant but actually isn’t. And when you’re called out on it you can’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “But are they?” while practically winking at the camera. This moment is everything wrong with our society. Yes. Those boys are criminals.
Should the girl in question (Daisy Coleman) have been drinking until pass out drunk at fifteen? No. Should she and friend Paige have gone to a basement party they knew only contained five seventeen-year old boys? No. But guess what? They weren’t hurting anyone but themselves by doing these things. Where the crime occurs is when the boys decide to ply her with more drinks before leading her into a room for sex. If you see a drunk girl or guy—passed out or not, asking for sex or not—you step back and stop everything cold. Consent officially leaves the room as soon as drugs of alcohol enter the equation because judgment is impaired. What’s said isn’t necessarily what’s meant, but sadly many inexplicably still don’t agree.
What Cohen and Shenk deliver in their depiction of Daisy’s case with police interrogation footage, interviews, and actual social media shaming and vitriol is the worst of humanity. It’s a vicious cycle wherein the same people forcing young girls to think a certain way to fit in are stabbing them in the back and chastising them for something that wasn’t their fault. It shows a judicial system leaning so heavily on “innocent until proven guilty” that it’s almost impossible to prosecute because “he said, she said” almost always sides with the predator. Rather than educating boys to be respectful and decent because their actions have consequences, our world has somehow taught them they can get away with it. When she’s drunk the problem can be victim blamed away.
This isn’t always the case as the filmmakers show with Audrie Pott. She was “lucky” because there were photographs proving what happened. Her abusers couldn’t hide behind consent or lies—admitting the acts unequivocally meant they were guilty. Unfortunately, having the evidence to convict also means the mark of what happened is out in the world. It means an entire school not only knows rumors, they’ve seen proof. Jocular rhetoric arrives, friends disappear, and still the victim becomes the one persecuted in public. Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and every other social media site becomes a venue for disconnect if not full anonymity to spew hate and bile strong enough to ruin lives. Audrie’s assailants will be punished (albeit not enough), but she unfortunately won’t be there to see it.
Here are two cases of sexually abused minors—one ending in suicide and another that tried multiple times—from disparate parts of America to show how prevalent rape is and how the internet can be used as an unearned mouthpiece for bullying. Audrie & Daisy is therefore a very important film to be released on a platform as established and accessible as Netflix so girls and boys are made aware of the world’s horrors and so victims know they aren’t alone. It’s not the best documentary cinematically by any means with a straightforward narrative devoid of bells and whistles to deliver objective facts and subjective conjecture plainly, but at a certain point message must trump aesthetic. Combining both stories into one convenient location helps spread the word.
The through-line connecting Audrie in California and Daisy in Missouri (a state for which the Sheriff says law allows consensual sex between a fifteen-year old and seventeen-year old) is yet another victim: Delaney Henderson. She too failed to kill herself and ever since has made it a point to do her best to contact others who were assaulted throughout the country. Delaney heard about Audrie too late to connect, but she did get in touch with Daisy. On the surface this seems like a weak bit of connective tissue, but it proves so much more especially where social media is concerned. As people Daisy knew created hashtags of her name with “slut” or “whore,” a Facebook message from Delaney’s stranger becomes a beacon of hope and compassion.
I would have liked Cohen and Shenk to spotlight more of the community that has been formed around Delaney as a safe haven to be around those who understand the pain they are enduring. To hear about Audrie’s and Daisy’s tragedies is to hear a record that has been broken for far too long, but to learn of the ways victims like them are coping and coming together is an inspiring wrinkle you don’t often hear about. The media wants to create a firestorm around the court case whether it ruins a young girl’s life or not, dropping the story as quickly as they picked it up. Where Audrie & Daisy succeeds best is in showing the aftermath of that. These girls aren’t ratings fodder; they’re human beings.
I’m glad the filmmakers do show as much of Daisy’s brother Charlie as they do Sheriff White, though. The movie’s about surviving a broken society with warped cultural values, so positive males are as necessary as negative (White’s father of two girls blatantly victim blaming throughout). Charlie exemplifies the former because he once called Daisy’s rapists friends and still cannot believe they didn’t phone to say, “You need to take your sister home.” Now a Little League coach, he’s taken it upon himself to teach his athletes respect. He provides an alternative to “locker room talk” to help this new generation of boys understand their personal culpability. If Audrie’s assailants are any indication, you must instill these values early because they surely didn’t learn anything from their crimes.