Audrie Pott, suicide and the shame of sexual assault
Every so often, we read stories about honor killings that leave us feeling despair about the treatment of women in other cultures. Usually, the common thread is rape, and the “shame” that befalls a family in its aftermath. It is the victim’s fault. And so the family acts.
Here’s a graphic and sensitive account, brought to light by Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini. She tells the story of a teenager who was raped by her brother, impregnated, made to have an abortion, then married off to a much older man. When he divorces her, a relative kills her to protect the family’s honor.
Thank God, you may find yourself thinking, that we live in a world where women are not brutalized for their own mistreatment.
And yet, you read about a girl like Audrie Pott and cannot escape the conviction that in our culture, women and girls do a fine job of brutalizing themselves.
Pott is the Northern California 15-year-old who killed herself a week after three teenage boys allegedly assaulted her at a party seven months ago when she was passed out. Her family’s attorney said someone circulated a photograph of the alleged assault, prompting Pott to write on her Facebook page, “worst day ever….The whole school knows…My life is like ruined now.”
Did shame drive her to suicide?
Anyone who has ever been a teenager or parented a teenager understands the extraordinary self-consciousness of this developmental stage.
If a kid doesn’t want to leave the house with a zit on her forehead, imagine facing schoolmates -- even a handful -- who have seen a humiliating photograph of you. We have drilled into our children’s heads that what happens in social media is permanent and can never go away. What must it feel like to be 15 and exposed online in the most humiliating way?
Sure, we don’t kill girls the way some cultures do. But we have as big a problem with rape shame as any nation in the world.
Here, though, the shaming is internal. The mechanism is not the family but social media. Sometimes, the result is the same.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.