More than 500 students from area high schools and community members took part in a public screening of the Netflix documentary “Audrie & Daisy,” which details the stories of two underage high school girls who were sexually assaulted by their peers.
The event was part of the 9th Annual SOS Child Abuse Prevention Summit and was held Wednesday morning at White Auditorium.
Daisy Coleman was just 14 when she was sexually assaulted by her brother’s friend and became the center of a controversial case in Maryville, Missouri, that made national headlines in 2012. Audrie Pott was a 15-year-old student at Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California, when she was sexually assaulted at a party where nude photographs were taken and distributed around the school. Pott died by suicide eight days later on Sept. 12, 2012.
Six years later, Coleman and her brother, Charlie, have made it their mission to advocate for victims and survivors of sexual assault and to prevent it before it happens again. The Colemans are co-founders of Safe Before Anyone Else — “a student-focused, survivor-driven organization whose mission is to raise awareness about sexual assault in middle and high schools and students’ rights under Title IX.”
They were in Emporia Wednesday to share in a discussion following the film.
SafeBAE focuses on preventing dating violence and sexual assault by providing students with the tools they need to advocate for consent and safe relationship education.
“I think the driving force for me in this movement has been hearing so many other survivors and victims stories and knowing that this still is happening, and has been happening for such a long time,” Daisy Coleman said. “We’re just now starting to talk about issues like this in our nation with the #MeToo movement. This is just the beginning. This is not our peak.”
Daisy Coleman said one reason SafeBAE was founded was to let other victims and survivors know they are never alone.
“To other survivors, whenever I say you’re never alone, it’s literally in the sense you’re never alone,” she said. “One in four women in high school by the age of 18 are assaulted, and one in six men. That is a lot of people. Regardless of whether or not they are speaking out and talking about it, there’s likely someone that you know that has been assaulted and they just aren’t disclosing it.”
She said having a support system to get through the trauma of sexual assault is “crucial” to the healing process.
“I would say it’s very crucial to have a support system,” she said. “It’s not always a family support system with every survivor, I was just fortunate to have a family support system. I have had plenty of survivors come forward to me where their family is actually blaming them for what happened to them, whether it be a relative assaulted them or a family friend assaulted them. Regardless of the situation, people just don’t have the support because their parents were raised in different generations. There’s a lot of different things that play into this that make it hard for survivors to find support, which is exactly why we’re here.”
Charlie Coleman said his support of his sister caused him to become an outcast. He said it was important to redefine what masculinity means in order to address the culture of sexual assault.
“People have the term masculinity very, very confused,” Charlie Coleman said. “I’m actually trying to change that as a whole.”
Charlie Coleman also works with the organization “Coaching Boys Into Men,” which provides “high school athletic coaches with the resources they need to promote respectful behavior among their players and help prevent relationship abuse, harassment and sexual assault.”
“It has to do with being a better human being,” he said.
Both Daisy and Charlie Coleman said they feel empowered with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Daisy Coleman said she was glad people were stepping up to talk about their experiences.
“People are realizing that this is happening to everyone around them,” she said. “It’s not just celebrities like Kesha. It’s not just something you see on the news or an old western film. This is a real situation happening to real people.”
Chase County High School Sophomore Chelsea Smith said she felt she learned a lot from Daisy Coleman through the documentary and the presentation afterward.
“She’s brought so much awareness to the issue of sexual harassment,” Smith said. “They’re still going and it’s really inspiring.”
Smith felt the best way for students to combat sexual assault was to talk about it.
“It’s a hard issue to talk about for anyone, but just talk about it more,” she said. “It’s OK to tell your story.”
SOS Child Advocacy Center Director Lucas Moody said “Audrie & Daisy” was a powerful documentary, and having the Colemans tell their stories increased the impact.
“The biggest benefit is to know that it is an issue and there are appropriate ways to handle it,” Moody said. “There are resources available, and there are always people out there who will believe you.”
Daisy Coleman said if she could give advice to another victim, it would be to reach out.
“You just have to reach out,” she said. “You have to be willing to open that door. I know it’s hard because something awful and tragic just happened to you, but you have to open that door just a little bit and let the love in.”
For more information about SafeBAE visit www.safebae.org.