By Jessica Sutton.
This piece contains details about suicide and sexual violence which may distress readers. Resources for help can be found at the bottom of this article.
We encourage everyone who reads this article to make a small donation to SafeBAE, the organisation Daisy co-founded, in order to contribute to the fight against sexual violence in schools.
Artist, advocate, and sexual violence survivor Daisy Coleman took her own life last week, after years of fighting trauma and speaking out for survivors of sexual assault. Daisy Coleman became a household name in 2016 when the documentary Audrie and Daisy was released on Netflix, detailing the horrific experiences of two schoolgirls who were sexually assaulted and subsequently harassed by supporters of the perpetrators and their wider community.
Audrie Pott was a beloved daughter and fierce friend. Three young men sexually assaulted Audrie while she was unconscious, and shared photographs of the assault at their school. Audrie subsequently committed suicide. Two of the perpetrators were sentenced to 30-day sentences (to be served on weekends), the third perpetrator was sentenced to a 45-day consecutive sentence. The civil case settled, subjecting the perpetrators to multiple conditions, including that two of the three perpetrators participate in the Netflix documentary. Audrie’s parents have successfully advocated for ‘Audrie’s law’, pushing for harsher penalties and reduced privacy rights for perpetrators of sexual offending when the victim is intoxicated or otherwise incapable of giving consent.
For Daisy Coleman, her career in sexual violence advocacy gave survivors everywhere agency, and she was dedicated to healing herself and others. Daisy was 14 years old when she was raped by an older student, then abandoned in freezing temperatures outside her family home. The perpetrator argued the sexual intercourse was consensual, despite Daisy’s young age and heavy intoxication, and charges of rape were eventually dropped, substituted for charges of child endangerment. Not only was Daisy denied justice, but she was continually bullied due to speaking out about the rape, including misogynist abuse both in person and online.
Yet, Daisy was a ray of hope: the ultimate survivor, going on to be named one of HuffPost’s “13 most fearless teens of 2013”. She co-founded SafeBAE, an organisation dedicated to preventing sexual assault in schools and advocating for survivors. She became a passionate tattoo artist. She continued to speak out for girls like Audrie who had lost their lives as a result of male violence, and for other girls who live with the consequences of sexual assault. She sought EMDR therapy for her post-traumatic stress disorder and documented the experience through a new film Saving Daisy, showing sexual violence survivors that it is possible to heal and grow after trauma.
Daisy was one of countless people, predominately women, that experience sexual violence. Her death is heartbreaking, but it should not be seen as a sign of hopelessness. Survivors can and do heal from trauma. But the intolerable situation of victim blaming that survivors often face is unconscionable. Sexual violence survivors are so frequently re-victimised by their communities turning against them, calling them liars and attention-seekers. The stereotype of the lying, vengeful woman is alive and well, and in many cases being weaponised against very young girls.
Media and supporters of perpetrators often try to portray violence inflicted by young men as the youthful indiscretion of children, who aren’t able to distinguish right from wrong. “Boys being boys”, in short. But the girls in these cases who are raped, bullied, and in some cases killed, are children too. Why are these children portrayed as promiscuous women who must take responsibility for their actions, while the perpetrators of violence are indulged and protected? If a 14-year-old girl is required to police her own sexuality, not get drunk, not be promiscuous, and not walk home alone, then why are boys not held responsible for rape?
Of course, the answer is that our society values the potential and reputation of young men far more than the lives of young women. Girls are casualties in the journey of young men to greatness. Their lives are incidental to young men reaching their potential. “No boy should have his life ruined by one mistake”, people claim. “Think of what he could be!”. We dream big for our sons, but our daughters all too easily become their “mistakes”, which can easily be pushed aside, denied justice, and blamed for their own victimisation. We tell girls they can do anything boys can, but we still allow them to be sacrificed for the convenience of boys. We would still rather blame girls for not protecting themselves, than teach boys that they are not entitled to someone else’s body.
The parents of Daisy’s rapist get to wave their son off to college and look forward to him attaining that mystical “potential” that only young men are allowed to possess.
Daisy’s mother has to bury her daughter.
The more we allow survivors to be blamed for the violence of boys and men, the more we are saying as a society that the lives of girls and women don’t matter. It’s unspeakable to keep turning a blind eye to crimes committed by young men at the same time as vilifying the young women who experience violence. The moral responsibility for that violence, lies with the young men who choose to sexually assault them, and the people who choose to blame and humiliate them.
Why don’t we ask what these young women could be? What would she have achieved without her freedom and personhood being intentionally violated? What lives would she have changed if she had not been attacked by someone who thought that girls were not worthy of being treated with humanity? If the last 9 years of Daisy’s life are anything to go by, in which she achieved so much, while fighting an valiant battle, the rest of her life would have been magnificent. Girls have the potential to do anything.
Survivors need our understanding and vocal support. Daisy’s story is not a reason to despair – her life was dedicated to giving survivors hope, and every sexual violence advocate would want survivors to know that help and healing is available, and possible. I know that Daisy touched my life, even though I never knew her personally. I know that she touched the lives of countless others. She spoke out for girls like Audrie who could no longer speak for themselves. And now we have a duty to speak out in her name.
0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline
0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
0800 611 116
0800 726 666
Rape Crisis National Helpline
0800 883 300.
Safe to Talk (Sexual Harm Helpline)
Government information for survivors of sexual violence, including how to report violence to the Police, and what the Court process involves.
Help finding therapists for mental health support, supported by ACC.
0800 376 633 (24/7).
Free text 234.
For kids and teenagers.
0800 WHAT’S UP, 0800 942 8787 (1pm-11pm, 7 days).
For kids and teenagers.