Teen assault victims brave to go on record
When Daisy Coleman and her mother, Melinda, decided to go to The Kansas City Star about Daisy’s allegations of sexual assault in Maryville, Mo., they made the unusual decision to use Daisy’s name. Sexual assault victims usually choose to keep their names out of the press, and Daisy was only 14 when she says she was raped, by a 17-year-old high school football player, in January 2012. She has since gone on CNN and written her own firsthand account for xoJane. The other girl who was with her that night, and who also says she was assaulted, has come forward on TV too. Her name is Paige Parkhurst, and she was 13 at the time.
Daisy and Paige are putting themselves on the line in a way that can only help erase the stigma of being sexually assaulted. That is a hard thing to do. It means taking a huge personal risk. It’s a deeply personal decision, and there are reasons why other girls and women make a different choice. But I do think it’s true that every time someone like Daisy or Paige comes forward, it makes it easier for other people to report rape and to talk about it.
The girls are also teaching a lesson in resilience. They are being cleareyed about what they say happened, but they are not letting it own them. They are not ruined. Daisy writes: “I’m nothing more than just human, but I also refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer. This is why I am saying my name.”
Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped for nine months at 14, has just published a book in which she talks about being raped repeatedly in a tone that manages to be matter of fact. For a New Yorker profile, Smart told Margaret Talbot that her goal is to make “talking about rape and abuse not such a taboo.”
One way to think about Daisy and Paige’s choice to come forward is that they are trusting in the transparency of good journalism and, yes, the Internet. Before their story ran in The Star, the girls were the targets of vicious victim blaming in their town. Locally, their names had been shredded. Now that the lens for their story has widened beyond Maryville, they’re getting the support they didn’t before. Daisy wrote about how “#justice4Daisy has trended on the Internet, and pressure has come down hard on the authorities who thought they could hide what really happened.” She’s right. The county prosecutor has called in a special prosecutor to reopen the case.
Would Justice4Daisy have happened if we didn’t know Daisy’s name? Maybe it would have. The assault of a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio, turned into a national lesson on rape culture even though she remained Jane Doe. Still, individual narrative — a name, a face, firsthand testimony — has unrivaled power to move people.
Heather Logghe is a doctor who was sexually assaulted. When she won an award last year, she wrote that since being accepted to medical school, “I have always wondered how I would someday reconcile my new physician self with ‘Heather the survivor.’ ” She debated how much of her own story to tell, and decided to speak out because “I remembered how lost I felt picking up the pieces after the assault, how I yearned for the stories of other survivors. I wanted to know that recovery was possible.” Logghe’s piece ends with this call:
“If you are a survivor yourself, I encourage you to share your story with others when it feels safe. My first month of medical school when I began to question if I had what it takes, a faculty member shared her own story of how being assaulted had impacted her medical education many years later. I held her story close to my heart and knew that I would be OK. Creating conversations of healing will allow survivors to know they are not alone and that healing and recovery are possible.”
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family and kids. Her new book is “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character.”