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Audrie Pott Case: Underage Sexual Assault Followed by Cyberbullying Pervasive Across Country

( [email protected] ) Apr 12, 2013 07:11 AM EDT
In the wake of the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son last Friday who suffered from depression, the suicides in the cases of Audrie Pott in Northern California and Rahteah Parsons in Canada have brought the public's attention to sexual assault by adolescents, and the cyberbulling that follows.
A Northern California sheriff's office has arrested three 16-year-old boys on accusations that they sexually battered Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old girl who hanged herself eight days after the attack last fall. Reuters/Pott family/Handout

In the wake of the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son last Friday who suffered from depression, the suicides in the cases of Audrie Pott in Northern California and Rahteah Parsons in Canada have brought the public's attention to sexual assault by adolescents, and the cyberbulling that follows.

Three boys from Northern California were arrested Thursday after a seven-month investigation on alleged charges of sexually assaulting 15-year-old Audrie Pott as she was unconscious and then systematically disseminating explicit photos of her to the students at Saratoga High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

Eight days after the assault, Audrie hanged herself in Sept.

Darst King, 17, told SF Gate, "I was good friends with the girl. I was hoping (the arrests) would happen. You can't do something like that and get away with it. When it didn't happen right away, I was like, 'What's going on?' "

He added, "Everyone already knew who it was. I wouldn't say they were nice guys, but I wouldn't have expected them to do something like that."

The case shocked many in the Silicon Valley, where many of the tech giants, including Facebook, are located. And together with two other cases – a suicide in Canada and a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio – it underscored the immoral use of technology by young people in bullying others.

"The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly," said Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools, according to ABC.

Audrie's family is requesting privacy until a news conference Tuesday. But they said they were allowing their daughter's name and picture to be used to help tell her story and to provide an "impetus for change," the family’s attorney, Robert Allard, told SF Gate.

On Sept. 2, Audrie had gone to a female friend’s house for a sleepover on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Allard told San Jose Mercury. The friend’s parents had gone out of town for the weekend, he said, and the teens had access to an unlocked liquor cabinet.

Around 10-15 teens, including Audrie, began drinking. At some point Audrie reportedly went to an upstairs bedroom, passed out, said Allard, and then “woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable.” She knew she had been assaulted, he said.

“They did unimaginable things to her while she was unconscious,” said the family’s lawyer. “A photo or multiple photos were taken of the assault as it was taking place.”

The photos “spread like wildfire” among students through text messages at Saratoga and at least one image were posted on the internet, said Allard. She didn’t tell her parents, because she was ashamed by what happened, he said.

“She was extremely angry that an image was captured and it was being disseminated,” Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for Allard’s law firm, Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, told San Jose Mercury. “She was humiliated that everybody at the school would find out and she wanted answers from people at the party about what happened.”

According to ABC, Audrie, in the days that followed, pieced together what happened from emails, text messages and an explicit photo that was passed around online, and she realized she had been abused by three of her friends, the lawyer said.

On Facebook, Audrie said the whole school knew what happened, and she complained that her life was ruined – “worst day ever,” Allard said. Her post was dated Sept. 7. She died on Sept. 10.

Audrie’s mother was unaware of the alleged assault until after her daughter hanged herself when Audrie’s friends notified her mother that there was more to the story, said Allard. She contacted the police after seeing her daughter’s Facebook posts and phone messages about the assault and bullying.

According to AP, the boys who were arrested Thursday – two at Saratoga High School and one at Christopher High School in Gilroy – were booked into juvenile hall, each on suspicion of two felonies and one misdemeanor count covering the sexual assault and subsequent distribution of the images. Officials are withholding their names because they are underage.

Allard said Thursday's arrests "reopened a wound" for the girl's family members, according to ABC, and they have gone into seclusion. They want to see the boys prosecuted as adults and tougher consequences for distributing such photos.

Pott’s family also want their daughter’s case to become a model for a law bearing her name, in which juveniles arrested in the most heinous cases of cyber-bullying be tried as adults, he said.

"Audrie's Law would address some of the things that happened here," Allard said. "There are two common elements here that are being repeated across the country - sexual assault by an adolescent and the cyberbullying that follows."

“She was a beautiful, young little girl,” Allard told ABC. “This should never have happened.”

Audrie Pott stands on the right. (Asianfanfics.com)

Audrie's parents and stepmother have started a foundation aimed at providing kids with music and art scholarships - two of the great loves in their daughter's life.

The Audrie Pott Foundation, at audriepottfoundation.com, also offers youth counseling and support.