If you watch anything on Netflix this month, let it be the new documentary Audrie & Daisy. The doc—which premiered on September 23—tells the story of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two teenage girls who were sexually assaulted in different communities in 2012. Daisy and Audrie’s stories are pieced together through interviews with their parents, siblings, friends, law enforcement officers, and Daisy’s personal testimony. The film unflinchingly shows the reality of sexual assault and its aftermath, especially as it plays out over social media.
The first story shared is Audrie Pott’s. In September 2012, Audrie, 15, was sexually assaulted by a group of boys at a house party. The day after the party, Pott woke up with no recollection of what had happened, and found vulgar messages scribbled on her body. She learned the perpetrators took photos of the assault and her nearly naked body, and they were possibly being shared among her classmates. She took to Facebook messenger to try and piece things together. She wrote desperate messages to her friends and the perpetrators on Facebook, fearing that being assaulted had “ruined” her reputation forever. She messaged one friend, “My life is over.” Eight days after the incident, she committed suicide.
The exact messages she sent are shared in the documentary, and it’s intentionally hard to stomach. “Just seeing the frantic way in which Audrie was reaching out to people across Facebook messenger to try and piece together what happened to her that night and the response she was getting was so horrible to read for the first time,” Bonni Cohen, one of the directors of Audrie & Daisy tells SELF. “But it kind of just emboldened us to put it in the film and make it a centerpiece in a very visceral way, so we could see what Audrie was going through in those moments.”
Eight months before Pott’s death, in January, 14-year-old high school freshman Daisy Coleman was sexually assaulted by a senior classmate at a small house party. The incident was filmed by one of his friends. The next morning, Daisy was found in her front yard, her hair frozen. She was left there by the boys who threw the party. Daisy and her mother went to the hospital and reported the incident to the police, but the charges were dismissed, some sources suggest due to corruption. Members of the community turned on the family, and Daisy suffered an onslaught of threats and vitriol both in person and on social media. She attempted suicide three times. The family fled the town, and their house was burned down while up for sale. In 2014, the man who raped Daisy pled guilty to a misdemeanor child endangerment charge. But mentally and emotionally, the incident still enveloped Daisy.
The documentary follows Daisy closely as she struggles to readjust to life after the assault. When the directors of the film approached Daisy about the project, she first resisted participating. Her case had already gone viral, and she was hesitant to put herself back in the public eye. It had made her the target of relentless online bullying. But once the directors told Daisy about Audrie, she knew she had to speak up—if not for herself, for Audrie.
“I had known that [Audrie’s] case was similar to mine in the concept that she had been intoxicated one night and some boys she had trusted assaulted her,” Daisy tells SELF. “But it wasn’t until about the second or third filming we did that I learned she had committed suicide before even being able to speak out against those people…she really was never given a fair chance to speak out against the perpetrators or those who had done her wrong.”
Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk filmed Coleman for more than two years, documenting Daisy’s darkest moments and her attempt to find herself in light of what she experienced. The directors turned the camera often to Daisy’s social media accounts—sharing her actual posts—where at times she publicly showed just how lonely and lost she felt. Eventually, at the end of the film, those posts changed to something more hopeful.
Today, Daisy is doing better. She’s a student at Missouri Valley College with a wrestling scholarship. She started volunteering with Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), an organization that works to prevent sexual assault and help survivors heal, and she’s bravely sharing her story with audiences across the nation. Audrie & Daisy will give her story, and Audrie’s, the amplification it deserves.
In 2015, Audrie’s story made headlines again when her parents settled a wrongful death lawsuit against three of the boys who assaulted her. As part of the settlement, two of them were required to have a 45-minute interview with Cohen and Shenk for this documentary. The lack of remorse in their retelling of the night is gut-wrenching, but important to hear.
Daisy tells SELF she hopes that the film will start a discussion between parents and children, students and teachers, and all people about how sexual assault can truly change the rest of a person’s life.
For every Audrie & Daisy there are unfortunately so many other Jane Doe & John Doe sexual assault cases. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 109 seconds. Audrie suffered dreadfully from the stigma and shame attached to her assault, which ultimately cost her her life. In Daisy’s case, she carries on to try to help others.
Watch the trailer for “Audrie & Daisy” below.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). And if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK. More resources are available online from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.