I remember reading about Audrie & Daisy after Sundance 2016. I was looking at a list of the documentaries Netflix had acquired from the festival and this one stood out as important, and I was right. In fact, if there is one single thing I recommend you watch, it’s this.
I couldn’t really remember what the documentary was about so I went into it blind for the most part. We hear the interviewer stating that the interviewee will be referred to as ‘John R’ to protect his identity, and instantly wonder why his identity needs protecting. To further mask John R and his associate, John B’s identities, they are transformed into cartoon versions of themselves. A sheepish shaking leg from John R’s cartoon overlays cutaways of what you tend to see in American high school films; shots of cheerleaders cheering and football players playing football. It isn’t long, however, before the film takes a swift turn away from the American teenage dream into the much darker reality that this pep rally façade is disguising.
This documentary is about several cases of sexual assault in small towns in the US. I don’t want to tell you what happens. Instead, what I want to talk about is how I feel about the state of the world after watching this documentary.
Now it is clear in all cases reviewed in this film that each girl was raped. Call it what you want; assault, battery, abuse — whatever. The point is that every one of these girls was forced to commit sexual acts whilst they were not able to give their full consent. To me, that is rape. The sheriff of the county disagrees, saying that people get overexcited and throw the term ‘rape’ around, causing things to get out of hand. He appears to be insinuating that because there might not have been penetrative sex involved, this then means that the girl was ‘technically’ not raped.
Oh, I understand. The girl was not ‘raped’ by the literal definition, so it’s okay. She should calm down and everybody should stop making such a big fuss, right?
What was highlighted to me more than anything in this documentary was the reaction to these girls’ stories. Each girl was being oppressed; called a ‘lying slut’ and their homes and families were threatened for something they did not ask to have brought upon them. One newscaster reports on national television: ‘Well, what did this girl expect to happen after sneaking out at 1am?’
For the most part, I just feel confused. I’m confused at how in such a modern and supposedly understanding society, people still think that blaming the victim is tolerable. There’s another documentary called India’s Daughter which addresses the Delhi rape of Jyoti Singh in December of 2012. She was battered, raped and murdered by six men in the back of a bus and after watching the film, I had attributed their wrongdoings to their old-fashioned, traditional upbringing and their impoverished surroundings leading to a lack of education.
Yet since then, more and more similarities with cases all around the world are coming to light. Matt Bennett, one of the perpetrators in Audrie & Daisy was not brought up in disadvantaged conditions and taught by old Indian traditions that females are the lesser sex. He received ample education, and is in fact studying at university as we speak, so what’s his excuse? Is it upbringing? Is it peer pressure and the never-ending struggle to be popular? Is it video games? There must be some common element between the boys in this documentary and all the boys who have sexually assaulted young women all over the world. What is allowing them to think that having sex with a girl who is shouting ‘no’ is acceptable?
Furthermore, what is it with the lack of repercussions? Let’s all just return to the case of Brock Turner for a minute. He committed sexual assault to an unconscious 22-year-old female behind a bin and was caught smiling as he ran away. What was the verdict after being taken to court? He was found guilty on five counts of sexual assault, two of which were dropped not long after because there had been no genital to genital contact. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and three years of formal probation following his sentence. However, on the 2nd of September 2016 he was released after three months in jail. The Jane Doe he assaulted will never be free of her sentence, but Brock is on the loose and putting other people in harm’s way.
The documentary is gut-wrenching. It reminded me faintly of The Hunting Ground (2015) mostly because the same issues were being raised, but there was something different about Audrie & Daisy. And then it hit me. Whilst this gut-wrenching feeling is partially to do with the graphic descriptions of the incidents described, the film cleverly focuses more on the after-effects that these crimes have on the victims. This highlights to the audience the part of sexual assault that you do not see.
With the Brock Turner case we heard the graphic details, we heard about his dad’s letter, we heard about the court case and sentencing but we did not hear about what happened to the girl. We never do; and understandably so! Why would you want to be labelled as the girl that Stanford athlete raped behind a dumpster for the rest of your life? Audrie and Daisy stands out because most of what we see is the aftermath. The focus is shifted from the crime to the repercussions of the crime, and we see what happens to these poor girls after the storm. I must commend their fearlessness, these girls speaking out is really something quite beautiful.
As I said, I don’t want to tell you what happens. What I will say is if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. You never know what a person is going through and your instance of ignorance could hit someone harder than a ton of bricks. Oh, and watch Audrie and Daisy. It’ll change the way you see things if the way you see things needs changing, I guarantee it.