‘The public square of shame’
Daisy Coleman, appearing in the documentary “Audrie & Daisy.” The film chronicles the sexual assault and subsequent harassment of Coleman and her friend Audrie Pott.

‘The public square of shame’

Documentary tackles consequences of sexual abuse for teens

BRATTLEBORO — On Nov. 1, the Hooker-Dunham Theater will show a free screening of “Audrie & Daisy,” an American documentary film released this year. The film tells the stories of two high school girls who were raped by boys they considered friends. The assaults were captured on camera and shared online.

The victims and their families were harassed after the rapes, including on social media. Both victims attempted suicide; one was successful.

In the directors' statement, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk write, “The online forum for sharing these images and comments has become the new public square of shame for our adolescents.” (www.audrieanddaisy.com)

The film is presented by the Windham County Safe Place Child Advocacy Center/Southeastern Unit for Special Investigations, commonly known as “Safe Place,” a nonprofit organization supported by state and private grants and individual donations. The special investigations unit was founded in 2007; three years later the child advocacy center was added. (www.safeplacecac.net)

“We investigate claims of sexual and physical assault,” said Safe Place Administrative Assistant Abby Bliss, explaining the cases are referred by the Vermont Department for Children and Families and the police, and the organization serves children and adults.

Other than Bliss, the organization's staff includes Executive Director Alyssa Todd, a forensic interview specialist, and Windham County Sheriff's Department Special Investigator Jessica Fellows. Safe Place's board of directors has representatives from law enforcement, DCF, and community justice groups, school administrators, clinicians, and the Windham County State's Attorney's office.

“'Audrie & Daisy' is relevant,” Bliss said. “The film focuses on cyber-bullying and the culture around rape and victim-blaming. We work with victims. This is the work we do.”

Members of Safe Place and representatives from the Women's Freedom Center, the Brattleboro Police Department, and the State Attorney's office will participate in a panel discussion after the film screening. “They'll discuss how issues raised in the film can be addressed in our community,” Bliss said.

The film, originally released at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2016, was picked up for distribution by Netflix, who contacted Safe Place to ask if they wanted to screen it.

Although Bliss said she hopes many will attend the screening and panel discussion, there might be other opportunities for local youth to see the film.

Brattleboro Union High School's Counseling and Health Services Department Chair Gina Onorato told The Commons in an email, “I have spoken to our principal, Steve Perrin, about showing the film, in the evening, at our school in the future. We have some plans to do so.”

“This way we can have counselors attend for support if anyone needs a kind word or tissue,” Onorato said.

Bliss said that Brattleboro Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Ricky Davidson has also reached out to Safe Place to arrange a screening of “Audrie & Daisy.”

“I'd like a lot of kids to see it. Not just girls, but boys, too,” Bliss said. “We need to create a dialogue around this. It needs to be part of the conversation.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates