Audrie & Daisy, a new Netflix documentary that premiered this week, is not an easy watch, but it is a powerful look at our society’s perception of women, sexual assault, mental illness and suicide. Since it premiered at Sundance to huge acclaim (The Hollywood Reporter calls it “utterly devastating but essential viewing”) it has been tipped as the next Making a Murderer from the TV behemoth.
And it’s also never been more topical. Sexual assault has been in the news a lot of late; the Stanford rape case made headlines around the world and last year, the documentary, The Hunting Ground brought campus sexual assault into the spotlight. It’s a harrowing subject to broach, but a very real problem, and the statistics are shocking; a study this year revealed that one in twelve female students are the victims of rape, according to research by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and some statistics estimate 16-20% of American female students are victims of sexual assault.
What has not been examined before in such a manner is sexual assault in the age of social media. US high-school students Audrie Potts and Daisy Coleman were both sexually assaulted – one in a suburb of San Francisco and the other in rural Missouri. Potts’ attackers then shared these pictures all over social media. As a result of these images and ensuing insults, Potts committed suicide, and Coleman received death threats and had her house burned down. Both cases became a source of international controversy after the local authorities chose not to prosecute the male teens who assaulted them while they were intoxicated – small towns were divided; some blamed both girls for their actions, while others wanted justice for the young women who suffered. Fast forward to 2016 and their attackers own up to every part of their crimes (they agreed to be part of the filming in exchange for their plea deals) but, even more disturbingly, they still seem uncertain of what exactly they did wrong.
Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk tell these stories with a combination of interviews official police footage, news reports, and animation and the result is a raw, emotional and unflinching look into campus sexual assault, how social media has the power to destroy lives and the devastating impact of online bullying. The trial by social media is one of the many disturbing elements of the whole thing; the words of abuse lashed upon the victims are sickeningly awful.
This will likely be the most difficult watch of 2016, but it must be watched, and it must be spoken about. “We need to band together to figure out how to stop this,” said director Cohen. “This is in our hands; this is happening in our households, under our roof, with parents sometimes at home.”
Audrie and Daisy is available to watch on Netflix from 23 September.
If any of the content in this article affects you, feel free to contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.