The Rape and Death of 15-year-old Audrie Pott

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I wish I did not have to write about Audrie Pott. About another “alleged” rape of a teenage girl whose attack was photographed and then spread on social media.

Most of all I wish I did not have to write about her suicide. She looks like my daughter. Long dark hair. Beautiful eyes. Sweet smile.

(Image: © Permission of family attorney Robert Allard)


But apparently in in our pervasive culture of rape this is what it has come to.

Last week, three 16-year-old boys in Northern California were arrested for sexually assaulting Audrie last Labor Day weekend and distributing pornographic images of her. Audrie and the boys were students at Saratoga High School, in an affluent suburb called Saratoga. She considered the guys who attacked her “her friends.”

I will let that sit for a moment.

It took seven months for the police to act, seven months in which the boys went about their normal high-school lives. That is why Audrie’s story is just now coming to light. But I suppose we should be grateful that the teens got charged at all.

Audrie’s grieving parents have set up a foundation in her name. Last Friday someone posted this on the foundation’s Facebook page:

We suspect that the boys who we believe are responsible for Audrie’s death took deliberate steps to destroy evidence and interfere with the police investigation. If students have information about this crime, if they saw pictures or know anything that will assist in bringing these young men to justice, please come forward. Audrie's family is asking for any students with information to please contact our attorney, Robert Allard at rallard@cmalaw.net or 408-289-1417.

We will see if anyone does the right thing.

In any case, today Allard said the family is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the three teens, who Pott's father, Larry, said had a "long and sordid reputation." They also plan to name the parents whose house was used for the party.

These stories have become so numbingly routine I can almost recite them by rote. Audrie, who loved horses and art and played soccer, had been drinking at a coed sleep-over party with friends. The parents whose home it was were out of town, in Napa. She went upstairs alone to go to sleep. That’s when the boys stripped her and, according to the sheriff's report, two of them assaulted her. When she was unconscious. Someone took photos. The photos were then generously shared.

Because that’s what teenagers do, as the story goes.

I also read that Audrie had a drawing on her body. It did not say what the drawing was. I am pretty certain I do not want to know.

(An update: According to the sheriff's report, released at a press conference on Monday, Audrie had writing on her breast and drawings all over her body of arrows, circles, and scribbles. Some of it near her vagina.)

Audrie woke up the next morning, not remembering most of this. But she quickly realized something “terrible” had happened.

And then she clicked on her Facebook page.

April happens to be sexual assault awareness month. As if we need any more reminders, what with the recent death of Retaeh Parsons and the rape trial in Steubenville. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

For one, we need to focus on teaching boys about rape and sexual consent and how our culture demeans girls. There is something seriously wrong when a 16- year-old boy thinks it’s normal, even “cool,” to sexually assault a girl and then essentially brag about his crime by blithely sharing it online. Raping young women is what they do in “other” countries, we like to tell ourselves.

Who are we kidding?

But we also have to ask: why do girls turn on each other so horribly? In the Steubenville case, some of the most vicious attacks against Jane Doe were fomented by teenage girls. When the photos, tweets, and videos started flying online, even her friends didn’t rally to her defense. They blamed her. They shunned her.

As a feminist and a mother, I find this girl-on-girl hating extremely troubling. Why do young women police each other’s sexual behavior? What do they get out of it? Status? A false sense of security that if they align with boys they’ll be safe, not targeted for similar abuse? Is it about a lack

of empathy? A herd mentality? When I was in high school 800 years ago, when few girls were even having sex, being called a “slut” was a social death sentence. Astonishingly, it still is.

Some teens, to their credit, are struggling to come to terms with--and expose—this rape culture themselves. In early April some journalism students at Palo Alto High school published a series on rape culture in Verde magazine.

Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote about it on Salon:

Its cover is an image of a young girl, her face obscured but her arms and neck and lower face covered in slurs. “Attention whore.” “Drunk.” “Asking for it.” Inside, student Lisie Sabbag writes about a senior’s sexual assault. “Despite her earlier protests,” the girl was “too drunk to object,” she writes. After filing a police report, she became the object of a “barrage of Facebook messages and Tumblr posts telling her that she was just looking for attention.” Sabbag also talks to another student who reveals a community in which boys are pressured to take advantage. “They would say, ‘Oh you didn’t want to have sex with her because she’s drunk? You’re such a fag.’”

Temitayo Fabebenile, a 16-year-old in New York City, was so upset by the barrage of slut-shaming on her FB page that she gathered a group of teens at her school to talk about it. Temitayo recorded what they said for a PBS show called Radio Rookies. As disturbing as it is, you might want to listen to it. I like to consider myself pretty savvy, pretty knowledgeable, about what’s going on with teens. I’ve studied them, written about them. I’ve even lived with a couple of them. But even I was shocked.

Did you know there are thousands of web pages now created to shame girls online called “exposing hos’”? Or that teens keep “slut lists”? Or that there’s an X-rated version of YouTube that boys post naked photos of girls on called World Star? I sure as hell didn’t.

Those photos, as we know, don’t go away. They are there to humiliate and haunt a girl forever. A night she might not even have remembered or been only dimly aware of. A night that’s now there for eternity, for the world to judge her and shame her.

"The worst day of my life,” Audrie wrote on her FB page, the day the photos of her being abused while unconscious began circulating around her school.

Eight days later, she hanged herself. Her parents were shocked. Of course they were. What would have caused their happy-go-lucky daughter to suddenly take her life? But they also didn’t know she’d been assaulted by three of her classmates. Audrie didn’t tell them. It was too hard.

She had so much to live for.

We need to do something so this never can happen again. We need to talk to our kids before they hit the socially volatile terrain of middle school. We need to develop programs in schools about sexual cyberbullying and the lasting damage it does. We need to find better ways to support girls when they are sexually assaulted instead of blaming them. Or looking the other way. They are crying out for help.

We need to do this so we don’t have any more Audries or Retaehs or Jane Does. They all woke one morning to find their promising young lives shattered like bits of glass.

Only one lived to tell her story.

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