Audrie & Daisy is a Netflix documentary, and it’s a timely and important exposé of the sexual exploitation of school girls by their peers. As an ex-teacher, one of my first thoughts on watching it is: this needs to be shown in schools. How heartening, then, to discover that it is indeed being used to educate, and that there are even lesson plans for teachers to download (www.audrieanddaisy.com). Tragically, it’s too late for Audrie, who committed suicide, but telling their stories – actually being heard – must be cathartic for Daisy, Delaney, Paige and the other girls who feature here. But the film’s main importance lies, I think, in protecting other potential victims.
At its core are two sexual assaults: Audrie (15) was abused and photographed while unconscious at a party, and Daisy was raped by her older brother’s friend, while incapacitated by alcohol. When everyone at school saw the pictures of her, Audrie couldn’t cope and hanged herself. Daisy, thankfully, has survived her ordeal, but the toll it’s taken is clear to see – on her and the rest of her family.
I don’t think it’s an over-reaction to say everyone should see this. We all need to hear these stories and acknowledge the reality of sexual assault. We all need to be reminded about consent and culpability. It’s easier to sweep such accusations under the carpet, easier to go along with, ‘Well, they were all just drunk, things got a bit out of hand.’ But that’s not the truth, and it’s not good enough.
Because it isn’t just their assailants who have hurt these girls, it is the ill-equipped system and the wider community too. From the high school gossips to the social media trolls, from the mayor who hates negative stories to the misogynist sheriff, a lot of people bear responsibility for victim-blaming, and worsening the girls’ ordeals. The bravery of these young women, their determination to tell their stories, and their selflessness in making themselves vulnerable again: these are things to admire indeed.
We hear Daisy’s story in her own words; she’s an articulate, intelligent young woman, and it’s heartbreaking to hear what she’s endured. Audrie’s tale is filtered through her mother, her best friend and – compellingly – the hesitant testimonies of her assailants, JohnB and JohnR, who have been animated to protect their identities. “I knew it wasn’t right,” says JohnR, “I’ve never felt good about it.” How much better for everyone it would have been if he’d been equipped to recognise sexual assault for what it is, if he’d had it drummed into him that an unconscious person can’t consent. Because JohnR is probably a decent guy; he’s the only one here who expresses remorse. “The boys have put it behind them and moved on,” says Sheriff Darren White, an odious self-righteous man, who thinks he’s got things sorted out. “It’s just the girls who won’t do that.” Well, it’s harder for the victims, Sheriff, especially when the whole town seems to have turned against them, and the justice system has let them down.
And that’s why this film needs to be seen. Because we need to stop a new generation from growing up to think like Darren White. So watch this documentary. It tells its stories well, with a clear eye and a dispassionate tone. And, if you’ve got kids, show it to them too.