The documentary Audrie & Daisy tells the story of two American teenage girls, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, from opposite sides of the country who went through strikingly similar traumas in high school. Both passed out drunk at parties and were then sexually assaulted by male acquaintances who shared videos and photos of the attacks, which lead to merciless cyber-bullying and harassment from the girls’ peers and community members. Each of the young girls, who were 15 and 14 respectively at the time of the attacks, suffered from depression in the wake of the 2012 assaults and while Daisy went on to become a co-founder and advocate for SafeBAE—aka Safe Before Anyone Else, a campaign raising awareness about sexual assault in middle and high school—Audrie tragically took her own life less than two weeks after the incident.
The doc, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and debuts September 23 on Netflix, follows in the footsteps of The Hunting Ground and The Invisible War and brings to light the troubling cultural practice of victim-blaming that often means a survivor’s suffering is far from over after the actual assault.
We spoke with Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the documentary’s filmmaking husband-and-wife team—who are parents to teenagers themselves—about the film’s impact on other survivors and how social media can be used for good.
What’s the reaction been like since the documentary premiered?
Jon Shenk: At every screening [which are taking place across campuses and communities], we’ve had people approach us with tears in their eyes telling us how important the film is. Either because they experienced assault in their lives or they know people in their family or friends who have gone through this. It’s been incredible. We’ve been really lucky to have Daisy and Delaney [Henderson, a sexual assault survivor featured in the documentary] and other members of the SafeBAE and PAVE groups that Delaney and Daisy are part of to come to the screenings and be available to survivors who want to speak to them. We’ve seen Daisy and Delaney reach out and lend an ear to young women who want to start processing assaults that happened to them and get involved in the personal struggle and the public fight against these kinds of things. That’s been really amazing.
The doc also showed how social media can be used for good as a way to unite survivors. Was that a conscious decision?
BC: Definitely. We’re still learning how to use social media effectively and responsibly. It has a dark side, but it’s also useful for girls finding each other, reaching across the airwaves to find other girls with the same experiences they’ve had and creating a form of support.
What can we learn from how Audrie and Daisy were treated by families, friends and strangers after the assaults?
BC: There’s a huge amount of denial in our society about these kinds of assaults and the way boys and girls are capable of treating each other. The immediate desire to blame the victim is certainly something that has been around for a long time, but what’s new is that it’s showing up on social media and on the internet. The blame is resonating and magnifying even more so than ever before. It just creates much more havoc in its wake. The communities where these events happened, they’re not alone. These events are happening all around our country and all over the world. It’s very hard for parents and friends to come to terms with the fact that it happened at all, let alone know about it and know how to prevent it.
Over the course of the film, we see that Daisy goes through a huge transformation. What was it like to watch her build herself back up?
BC: It was a joy to see Daisy transform. We met a young girl who was in recovery. We saw her develop into an artist, an advocate and activist. We watched her become healthier, which is probably the most gratifying aspect of making this film. That really showed itself when she worked with an animator who animated Daisy’s sketches of the night of her assault. Giving her that artistic freedom to be the person responsible for telling her story was very empowering and she came to life. It was beautiful.