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I’m going to diverge from my previous focus on Seattle (and food) for a moment to address something that I feel is worth talking about.

Recently, pictures of a young girl have been appearing on the news, along with the story of her suicide and circumstances that drove her to commit such a tragic act. That young girl’s name is Audrie Pott, and she was sexually assaulted at age 15 by three 16 year old male classmates. After being sexually assaulted, pictures were taken and spread around (it is unclear how many saw the pictures, but the point is that they existed, of course). Cases like Audrie’s have been showing up in the news far too often, so much so that it’s easy to get the details of each girl and story mixed up.

But for me, Audrie’s case holds particular importance. Audrie Pott is from Saratoga, my hometown before coming to Seattle. She was a student at Saratoga High–the high school that I went to and my brother currently attends.

Audrie’s suicide happened months ago and the causes were not fully known. It was speculated that cyber-bullying was a contributing factor. Saratoga is typically a blissfully quiet community, and the news of this girl’s death shocked many. Students, parents, and other community members rallied together to show support for Audrie and one another. A charity foundation was set up in Audrie’s name by her parents, and slowly but surely, the community began to move forward.

And then, news of the sexual assault came to light. Finally, circumstances surrounding why Audrie killed herself were made clear; people had the answer they’d been trying to understand months ago. Since the arrest of the three boys, Saratoga and Audrie have been thrust into the national spotlight.

It is truly terrifying to see your school, your classmates, your community members on national news for such a sad occasion. I can only imagine the response my younger brother must be having; I never knew Audrie, and I’ve been out of Saratoga for the past three years, but he did know Audrie, and he still goes to the school that is being nationally scrutinized for their involvement with the case.

It’s been interesting to see how the local and national media has chosen to portray Audrie and her story. The majority of coverage expresses sympathy for a young girl that was taken advantage of. But I have also seen coverage that expresses a disturbing idea that because alcohol was involved, and Audrie put herself in such a potentially harmful situation, she is partially to blame. Victims of sexual assault should never be blamed. Audrie did not ask to be assaulted, and she did not consent to anything thrust upon her, regardless of intoxication. To blame the victim is to perpetuate our country’s incredibly dangerous rape culture.

On social media in particular, I’ve seen a large amount of people (mostly former Saratoga students) renouncing their support for the school and blaming them for Audrie’s death. Perhaps it’s easier to target the school as a whole because the names of the boys involved have not been publicly released; there isn’t a face or name to associate with the crime, and so the school is easiest to turn against. While the details of Audrie’s case are still murky, and the school administration (and student) involvement is not clear, blaming an entire high school solves nothing and ignores the important issues at hand. The current students at SHS have dealt with an onslaught of negative media coverage in the past few weeks, and I imagine it won’t let up any time soon. People need a scapegoat, and the students and staff at the school have unfortunately filled that role. In our rush to find answers, misrepresentation and misinformation have become rampant.

To be honest, I had intended to use this post to discuss media coverage and take a strategic communications approach to analysis of the situation. But to minimize this case in such a manner seems unecessary. Quite frankly, I’m at a loss for what I can say on the matter, other than this: sexual assault happens far too often, and is frequently unreported. Audrie’s case is a reminder that this can happen in any community (and does), regardless of age. As difficult as it may be, we as a society need to form a dialogue about this. We need to stop exploiting victims, we need to teach young girls and women (as well as male victims of sexual assault) that you are not to blame, you are not at fault. We need to place blame where it belongs, and develop ways to move forward. The coverage of this case is sad proof that we as a society are more interested in sensationalizing a story than delivering the facts and learning from them.

For those that have been victims of sexual assault, or would like to support a cause that helps victims, these are two resources I personally feel are worth checking out:

RAINN (national)
From their site: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

KCSARC (Seattle area)
From their site: King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s (KCSARC’s) purpose is to alleviate, as much as possible, the trauma of sexual assault for victims and their families. Our mission is to give voice to victims, their families, and the community; create change in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about violence; and instill courage for people to speak out about sexual assault.

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