Stigma and Victim-Blaming in “Audrie & Daisy”

“Audrie and Daisy” is a documentary that tackles the issue of stigma and victim-blaming in sexual assault victims through the example of two young women who were raped by men who were ’friends’ of theirs. This is an disheartening documentary that shows the quickness of the community to discount the victim’s story and to automatically believe the perpetrator, while providing excuses that blame the victim’s actions and appearance. It is important that we find the basis of this thought process and propose a new model of thinking to help ease the pain that sexual assault victims endure following the reporting (or the decision to not report) of a violent act against them.

Following Audrie Pott’s sexual assault by three male friends at a school party, pictures of Pott’s unconscious and half-naked body were spread around her high school. There was such a stigma placed on the victim, Pott, instead of the men that violated an unconscious girl. Members of the high school gossiped about it and would even send her messages on Facebook. Pott committed suicide a week after her assault due to the cyber and in-person bullying and harassment that preceded the incident. On the other hand, Daisy Coleman went to her older brother’s friend’s house, where her sexual assault was filmed and shared among classmates. When she was driven home, she passed out on the lawn of her house, and her mother found her the next morning with her hair frozen to the grass. The harrassment by the community was so bad that Coleman had to leave school, her mother lost her job, and then their home was set on fire. In both stories, the victims had more stigma about being sexually assaulted than the perpetrators have about sexually assaulting someone.

 Victim-blaming has become a natural process in the response of a sexual assault. In both cases of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, they were both intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness. It was then, that they were taken advantage of. When using the victim as the causation of their sexual assault in the Path Model of Blame, Niemi and Young (2014) highlighted three factors that go into the decision to victim-blame: intentionality, obligation, and capacity. After they are deemed “the cause,” the model would a few questions. “Did the victim intend to cause the rape?”, “Did the victim have an obligation to prevent causing the rapist to rape her?”, and “Did the victim have the capacity to fulfill her obligation?” While the question of intention may lead to a negative answer, there is still a question of whether or not the victim put themselves in a specific situation and if they had the ability to remove themselves from that situation (Niemi & Young, 2014). In the cases of Pott and Coleman, the community saw them as putting themselves in the situation: they consciously went to the party and they chose to drink. Their community saw them as having an obligation to not go to the party or removing themselves once they detected the threat of being sexually assaulted (which one is supposed to predict ahead of time). But once they were unconscious, did they have the capacity to fulfill the obligation of not getting raped? According to the amount of stigma and harassment both experienced in the aftermath of their assault, their community decided that both the obligation and capacity were there.

“Audrie and Daisy” depicts the ugly truth about stigma and victim-blaming in those that have experienced sexual assault. Those that it does not affect assume that they have the obligation and capacity to remove themselves from the situation that they are in. In the light of the current Brett Kavanaugh allegations, it is interesting to see how the public reacts to a sexual assault. While I am glad that there are many people that stand with Dr. Ford on this issue, there are still too many that just assume that sexual assault is the victim’s fault. 

Further Reading:

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/sexting-shame-and-suicide-72148/

http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/avoiding-victim-blaming/

http://www.southernct.edu/sexual-misconduct/facts.html

References

 

Cohen, B. (Producer, Director), Berge, R. (Producer), Dosa, S. (Producer), Shenk, J. (Director). (2016). Audrie & Daisy [Motion Picture]. United States: ActualFilms

 

Niemi, L., & Young, L. (2014). Blaming the victim in the case of rape. Psychological Inquiry, 25(2), 230–233. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2014.901127