'Audrie and Daisey' screening is an eye opener for many

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BRATTLEBORO >> "Audrie and Daisy" is a heartrending documentary about the impact of sexual assault compounded by social media on two different girls in two different American towns. When the folks at Windham County Safe Place Child Advocacy Center (SPCAC) in Brattleboro were approached by Netflix to offer a free screening of the film to help promote it, they jumped at the chance to share it with the community. As an agency that provides a safe haven for children who may have been abused, raising awareness about the age-old problem of sexual assault in a new-age world of social media in which the after effects caused by cyber bullying are that much more devastating is just part of its mission.

Audrie's and Daisy's stories, unfortunately, are not unique, and the first thing that strikes the viewer is that these incidents took place in average, small, close-knit towns of Saratoga, Calif. and Maryville Mo., not in some backward, isolated area. The perpetrators were not strangers, but boys that these girls were friends with, who one of the girls had grown up with, peers that they trusted.

Abby Bliss, administrative assistant and projects coordinator at SPCAC said, "This screening is about creating a dialogue with the community about how to prevent cases like these at best, and at least how to support the victims. The more a community comes together to understand the scope of sexual assault, the more we can advocate for the victims and their families, while sending a very clear message to the perpetrators of these crimes. The more awareness we can bring to the ways in which victims are blamed rather than supported, and the residual effects of being traumatized not only by sexual assault but by the culture surrounding disclosure, will impact our community in so many positive ways."

Although bullying and sexual assault are not new, what is new is the size of the audience. Before the advent of social media, experiencing name-calling in the hallway was witnessed by perhaps 10 or 15 peers within earshot. Today, slurs, verbal abuse, and photos are posted and shared for all the friends to see, what could easily be 400 or more in the conversation, overtaking the center of a teenager's social world. In cases of sexual assault, embarrassment, shame, trauma, and guilt also come into play, shattering their world as they know it. And the conversation can be quite ugly. Social media sites allow people the ability to write things that they would not say if confronted face to face, leaving the victim even more traumatized, sometimes leading to suicide.

SPCAC's purpose since 2010 has not only been to raise awareness about these and other abuse issues, but — as stated on its web site — to facilitate an integrated, multidisciplinary response to victims of child physical and sexual abuse and victims of adult sexual assault that reduces trauma, promote prevention and advocacy, and support healing for all in our community affected by these offenses.

The agency minimizes further trauma by providing a safe environment for individuals to talk with specially trained investigators from DCF and law enforcement, and refer victims to services designed to help them heal through the work of staff members of Alyssa Todd, executive director and forensic interview specialist; Jessica Fellows of the Windham County Sheriff's Department, special investigator; and Abby Bliss, administrative assistant.

One young man that watched the documentary was appalled and incredulous that people could act that way. As community members become more aware of this problem, it is also important that teenagers of both sexes be made aware of the repercussions, to hopefully prevent such behavior, and to help support victims if the unthinkable should happen.

The free screening of "Audrie and Daisy" will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., Brattleboro. The film is just under two hours, then a panel discussion will follow the screening with the members of the Women's Freedom Center, local police department, and the state's attorney.

Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.


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