Last month, the documentary Audrie & Daisy arrived on Netflix. It tells the story of the sexual assault of two teenage girls, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman. While each girl has a unique story, they share a common experience in the stigma, shame, and harassment they receive in response to their assault and the role technology plays in each of their stories.
Audrie & Daisy brings awareness to an issue that is all too common – teen sexual violence and the intersection with social media. Earlier this year, Thorn partnered with the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CRCC) at the University of New Hampshire to conduct research to better understand the emerging issue of sextortion. Similar to how the sexual assaults of Audrie and Daisy were documented in videos and images, sextortion involves threats to expose sexual content in order to make a person do something, or for reasons such as revenge or humiliation. While our research targeted victims of sextortion aged 18 to 25, an overwhelming amount of individuals said the abuse happened when they were under 18.
Sextortion and Sexual Assault Unfold with the Help of Technology
When we released our survey about sextortion, we received more responses from individuals who had been impacted than we could imagine. Many respondents revealed the way in which technology plays a major role, with sextortion often occurring across platforms. Forty-five percent of cases involved more than one platform, with social networks involved 54% of the time and text and photo messaging apps involved in 41% of cases. With connectivity on the rise, sextortion continues to to be an increasingly pervasive threat. Furthermore, cyberbullying has become normalized behind the anonymous veil of the internet and the online user’s disconnection from the devastating psychological effects their actions have on a victim. In the case of Audrie Pott, the harassment and subsequent shame following her sexual assault led her to take her own life.
Stop the Shame
These are stories that need to be heard. 1 in 3 victims we surveyed did not tell anyone about sextortion incidents, often because of shame, embarrassment and self-blame. Films like Audrie & Daisy normalize conversations about the topic, break down barriers and help shift the narrative around sexual assault. An educational and outreach campaign across high schools has accompanied the release of the movie, helping to spread the message about the severity of these online threats and how individuals can be upstanders by not perpetuating a culture of victim blaming. By sparking a conversation, this movie, like our research, will encourage more people to come forward with their stories.
To host a screening of Audrie & Daisy in your community, visit www.audrieanddaisy.com.