This story is unbelievable to me. Not just because it happened but because it seems to be part of a growing trend that people aren’t doing enough to crack down on. When 15-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a party in September 2012, three of her classmates sexually assaulted her, took pictures, and shared them with their friends. Audrie was so distressed she committed suicide eight days later. Those teenagers confessed to their crimes and were sentenced to only 45 days in a California juvenile detention facility. Are these people even serious right now?
An “anonymous source” told the San Francisco Chronicle that Audrie’s three attacker, two age 16, and one 17, admitted to digitally penetrating her while she was unconscious, writing foul things on her body, and texting the photos to other classmates. The digital penetration and photo distribution are each felonies in their own right, and yet the two boys somehow were punished with 45 days. The 17-year-old in the case was charged with additional crimes because he had lewd photos of other girls. How can you measure in days a sentence for crimes that ended a life?
The details of Audrie’s attack are every woman’s and every parent’s worst nightmare. She told her parents she was spending the night at a friend’s house then went to the party, where she was seen taking shots. She passed out and the three boys, who she’d known since middle school, took her upstairs to a bedroom. Kids at the party said all three boys were sober, which makes the story that much more horrific. They were also all on the football team, an eerie echo of Steubenville. Audrie woke up the next morning terrified, trying to understand why she was naked and why there were foul words written around her genitals. She wrote to a friend via Facebook, “I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember, and the whole school knows.” Her mother found Audrie hanging in the family bathroom; she died in the hospital a few days later.
Yes, Audrie broke a lot of rules, but teenagers break rules. A parent can’t control a child’s ever move, but no parent imagines that their child will leave the house to have fun with friends, and come back a completely broken person. Even if Audrie hadn’t committed suicide, there would be almost no way for the three adults caring for her–her mother, father, and stepmother–to heal her.
I cannot imagine what judge would think these boys needed a month and a half of time out. Under California law, the attack isn’t considered rape, so the three boys couldn’t be tried as adults. They won’t have to register as sex offenders. Essentially, they can carry on with their lives. Even as their lawyer argued that it was “disturbing…to link Audrie’s suicide to the specific actions of these three boys”, we all know there was no other reason. This is all so, so serious. They showed no respect for a fellow human being and felt others should share in the humiliation. Ruining and ending a life needs more than a slap on the hand. It sends the message that women don’t matter, that even with the hard evidence that is often lacking in cases of rape and sexual assault, someone can make a decision that a damaged person just isn’t worth the trouble. When we talk about rape culture, this is exactly what we mean. The laws, and the culture that created those laws, don’t protect the people that need protection most. It doesn’t matter that these were “good kids” who had never had trouble with the law.
Audrie’s parents and her stepmother filed a civil suit against the boys involved and settled with two of them. They’re lobbying for stricter cyberbullying laws and have sued the Saratoga School District for not doing enough to prevent the cyberbullying that cause Audrie to take her own life. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to bring their daughter back.