Broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, we look at the story of two high school girls who were sexually assaulted and bullied on social media in cases that made national headlines. A new documentary, “Audrie & Daisy,” examines their lives and the impact of what happened to them on their families, their communities and the national conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as we turn to a new film about two high school teenagers who were sexually assaulted and bullied on social media in cases that made national headlines. Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman never knew each other. Daisy lived in the small rural town of Maryville, Missouri. Audrie lived in the Silicon Valley suburb of Saratoga, California. But their stories were similar. Both said they were sexually assaulted while intoxicated and unconscious by boys they knew and trusted. Both were harassed on social media afterwards. And both attempted to take their own lives—Daisy survived, Audrie did not. The new documentary, Audrie & Daisy, premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, examines the lives of these two teens and the impact of what happened to them on their families, their communities, the national conversation.
I sat down here at Sundance with Daisy Coleman, her mom Melinda Coleman and Audrie Pott’s mother, Sheila Pott. You’ll hear from them all later in the broadcast. But first, I spoke with the film’s husband-and-wife directing team, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. Together, they’ve made films on topics ranging from elections in Afghanistan to the ouster of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed. I asked Bonni Cohen why they decided to make Audrie & Daisy.
BONNI COHEN: Jon and I are a married couple. We have two teenage kids of our own. And we saw the need to make this film. We saw this sort of paralysis, really.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have boys or girls?
BONNI COHEN: We have one boy and one girl. We have a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. And there was a sense of paralysis and fear—ourselves, our friends, our community—around issues involving social media and the use of it and the misuse of it. And we started to get exposure to these stories of these girls in high school and then how they were subsequently bullied on social media, and we felt we had to do something about it. And I think it’s probably been the hardest film we’ve ever made.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bonni Cohen, who directed Audrie & Daisy with her husband, Jon Shenk, as we turn now to the mother of one of the girls whose story is told in this powerful new documentary. On September 2nd, 2012, Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old high school sophomore in Saratoga, California, went to a party with a small group of friends. After she got drunk and passed out, three boys, who had been her friends since middle school, undressed her, sexually assaulted her, wrote all over her body with permanent marker. They drew on her breasts. They wrote “anal” above her buttocks with an arrow pointing down. Throughout the assault, they took pictures on their cellphones.
When she woke up, Audrie had no idea why her body was covered in marker. Her Facebook messages in the aftermath show her desperate attempts to piece together what happened. She pleaded with one of the boys to delete the photos. She said, “I now have a reputation I can never get rid of,” she wrote. Her peers taunted and bullied her. “You have no idea what it’s like to be a girl,” Audrie wrote in one of her final messages. Eight days after the assault, Audrie hanged herself. Her mother, Sheila Pott, found her daughter dangling from a showerhead. This is Sheila Pott’s story.
SHEILA POTT: Audrie had told me that she was spending the night at her girlfriend’s house, and—which was normal every weekend activity. They were either at my house or her friend’s house. And they had planned a party because one of the parents was out of town. And they invited 11 or 12 of their friends that they had grown up with since middle school. And they were drinking, and she got extremely, you know, inebriated, and she was at the point where she couldn’t like control a lot of her motor skills. And she passed out, and the boys that were at this party took her into a room, locked the door, and they took off her clothes, and they drew on her lewd messages and did things to her. And—
AMY GOODMAN: They wrote on her with a Magic Marker?
SHEILA POTT: They wrote on her.
AMY GOODMAN: And they put arrows to her body parts?
SHEILA POTT: Yes. So, they were sexually suggestive things that they wrote, degrading things. And they took pictures. And she didn’t know any of this happened, because she was unconscious. So she woke up the next day to find herself, you know, without her clothes and the aftermath of what had happened. I mean, they had colored half of her face black, in addition to writing “(so-and-so) was here,” you know, like on her breasts and “anal” on her back—I mean, very, very degrading things. And she had no recollection of what had happened at all. And then she found out that morning from her friends that they had taken pictures. And, of course, she was an extremely private person, very self-conscious of her body. So it was devastating.
So, one of the—one of the things that I remember, which was out of character for her, is she called me that morning. And she said, “Mom, can you pick me up?” She had never called me to pick her up early. It would always be me saying, “OK, you need to come home now.” And I immediately said, “I’ll be there.” And when I picked her up, I noticed there was a green line down her leg, and I asked her about it. And she just kind of shrugged it off and said, “Oh, so-and-so wrote something.” And, you know, since they did doodle on each other a lot in middle school, and, you know, we were talking—this was the second week of her sophomore year, I didn’t press too much on it, because I couldn’t see anything that would lead me to believe that she was assaulted at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what ensued over the next few days?
SHEILA POTT: She went to school. This is the following week. So, she went to school for four days. I had her friends over that weekend for a sleepover. Everything was fairly normal. And that Monday, she called me to pick her up, and I said—it was around lunch time, and I said, “What’s wrong?” And she wouldn’t tell me. And I kept pressing her and pressing her: “You need to tell me.” And she said, “I want to leave.” When I got to school to pick her up, she was quiet. And I kept pressing her: “What’s wrong? You need to tell me.” And I asked her, “Did you get into a fight with your friends?” And she said, “I only have two friends.”
AMY GOODMAN: And this was just soon after this—you took her home, and she went into her room.
SHEILA POTT: She went into her room, and I had said—I said, “Go inside, and we’ll talk in a few minutes,” because we always had talked, and we were close, and she had confided in me a lot of things. And her friends did, too. I talked to these kids about everything, about teen drinking, about being responsible online. And she went into the bathroom, and I went to check on her just a short while later, and she didn’t answer. And that’s when I immediately broke in the door. And I couldn’t believe this would have happened. So, and the whole two days that we were in the hospital—three days, actually—we just were racking our brains, going, “What happened? What went wrong?” It wasn’t until the following Sunday, after her memorial, that we knew there was an assault.
AMY GOODMAN: And you found that out by?
SHEILA POTT: One of the girls that was at the party came forward to the administrators. And she couldn’t even bring herself to tell them directly; she had to put it in a letter. So she wrote a letter to the administration saying this is what happened and who was involved. And so they started an investigation. So this happened Thursday, before her memorial on Saturday. And they started the investigation. They never called us to tell us that an assault had happened. It wasn’t until the sheriff’s office came to my house on Sunday evening that we found out.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the lawsuit that you filed, and talk about the system and whether you felt that these young men were held accountable.
SHEILA POTT: Well, we learned very quickly in the process in the juvenile case that we weren’t going to see, really, justice for Audrie in that system. And they were very upfront with us and told us it’s very unusual to even see jail time in a crime like this. And there were convictions. And as you know, the sentences were 45—30 to 45 days, served on weekends.
AMY GOODMAN: For two of the—
SHEILA POTT: For two of them. And because it’s juvenile, we—it’s confidential, and they go back to school, to the same schools, most of them, and their classmates don’t even know what had happened. And it was very important to us to clear her name and for people to know that she wasn’t conscious, she did not consent to what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: She wrote—Audrie wrote on Facebook, “I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember and the whole school knows.” She said this to a friend on Facebook days before she committed suicide.
SHEILA POTT: Yes. So, we found those Facebook messages probably two to three weeks after she passed away. And it gave us a snapshot into how she felt at the—like she felt like she couldn’t control what happened. She didn’t remember it. And the rumors were morphing out of control. She didn’t know what to believe, because she couldn’t remember any of it.
AMY GOODMAN: She clearly kept asking even the young men who were involved, because she knew them from childhood—
SHEILA POTT: Yes. She trusted them.
AMY GOODMAN: —”What happened? What did you do to me?”
SHEILA POTT: Yes, and she pleaded with them, you know, “Delete those pictures. How could you do this to me? You know, you don’t understand. You know, word gets out.” And I know now that she felt like it wasn’t just her high school that knew. She felt like other high schools in the area knew, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: So you sued. Talk about the settlement that you arrived at.
SHEILA POTT: So, because it was very important, you know, for us to clear her name, we really wanted the accountability and the admissions of what actually happened. So that’s why there were so many nonmonetary terms in the settlement. And, you know, there were terms of they had to do 10 presentations—I think there were 10 on their own and two with the foundation that we set up, Audrie Pott Foundation. And they had to admit publicly what they did to her and apologize to her. And, of course, they had to agree to be in the documentary. And then we asked that they, you know, ask the school that she could graduate with her class. And we just felt like her future was taken from her, and we wanted her school—you know, that was her family—to know this happened. She didn’t ask for it. She didn’t deserve it. It’s wrong. And we didn’t want it to happen to other girls.
AMY GOODMAN: And this unusual requirement that they speak to the people who were making a film about Audrie, that they speak to Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen, why was that important to you?
SHEILA POTT: We thought that if—it would be powerful coming from them, if they had true remorse and they could talk to other students and young men about choices, about making, you know, the wrong choice. And, obviously, it didn’t really work out that way. I don’t think that to this day they feel accountability for their actions.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to John B., first being questioned by a lawyer and then being questioned by the filmmakers.
LAWYER: Going back in time, the party happened on September 3, 2012, right?
JOHN B.: Yes.
JON SHENK: How did you become aware of the party?
JOHN B.: I don’t remember. It is pretty blurry. Like, you know, it was almost four years ago. So, I mean, you’re at this party that’s being hosted by Audrie and Emily. And, you know, it was my first party I’ve ever been to. I was a freshman. I just got my license, you know, kind of thought I was cool and stuff. I drove my friends there.
AMY GOODMAN: When you hear John B. saying this and see him, what are your feelings?
SHEILA POTT: I don’t really think that he understands the consequences of what he did. I don’t—I don’t sense that there is real remorse there. There was—there was a sense of trying to put the blame on someone else, from the very beginning, and I think it’s—it’s still there.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the justice system failed you?
SHEILA POTT: Oh, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you want to see happen?
SHEILA POTT: For one thing, I would have liked to see, you know, a longer sentence. I would have liked to see them expelled from their school, so that there was a message sent to the other classmates that this is not OK. I mean, the message that was sent, basically, because they weren’t expelled was: “Girls, don’t come forward, because we’re not going to take this serious.” And the message to the boys was: “Oh, well, you’ll get a slap on the hand, and then you can go back to your same activities as before.” And that’s what I thought was just a shame.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sheila Pott, mother of Audrie Pott. Audrie was 15 when she hanged herself eight days after she was sexually assaulted at a party. When we come back, you’ll hear from Daisy Coleman, who had a terrifyingly similar story. She also attempted suicide multiple times, but, unlike Audrie, she survived. She and her mother Melinda met Sheila Pott for this interview for the first time. Stay with us.