In this episode of The Scarlet Letter Reports, I sit down with sexual assault survivor Daisy Coleman, who co-founded SafeBAE, an organization that educates students in middle and high school about sexual assault.
In January 2012, Daisy’s mother discovered her 14-year-old daughter unconcious on the front lawn, hair frozen to the ground, wearing only sweatpants and a t-shirt. She had been dumped there in the night by 17-year-old Matthew Barnett.
Daisy claims that Barnett had encouraged her on to drink until she blacked out. It was only when her mom took her to the ER the next day—for frostbite—that doctors confirmed Daisy showed signs of having been raped.
Daisy reported the assault to local law enforcement, and though detectives brought Barnett in for questioning, they soon dropped assault charges against him, citing insufficient evidence. Overnight, Daisy’s small town had cast her as a “lying slut.” She was relentlessly and ruthlessly bullied at school and online. The harassment became so severe that her family had to move towns and Daisy attempted suicide twice. “I got so tired being told to shut up,” said Daisy. “I was told to quit talking about it. And so that’s when I decided I need to speak out about it, and other survivors started coming forward to me, and I realized this isn’t just happening to me.”
Daisy’s plight of victim blaming, though extreme, is not uncommon. For too long, our adversarial justice system has exacerbated rape culture and the trauma of sexual assault by subjecting victims to malicious and misogynist scrutiny, which, in turn, is exacerbated further by social media.
As someone who has experienced wrongful conviction, I know first hand what it’s like to be prosecuted in a hasty, unsubstantiated case, as well as subjected to malicious, misogynist scrutiny and public shaming. The question is: Is it possible to investigate victims’ claims with care, and prosecute sexual assault cases with caution, without setting victims’ up to be shamed and blamed? What is the cost victims pay when they speak up, and why do we continue to find it necessary that they pay any price at all?
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