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Sexting, Shame and Suicide

Page 5 of 5

In response to Audrie's death and the arrests, Saratoga's teachers opened discussions with students about the case that had fractured the affluent suburban veneer of the high school. "In every single class, somebody raised their hand and said, 'Well, wasn't she drunk?'" says Hayes. "And 'I thought she was drunk.' And 'She made out with two boys.' 'She was drunk and I'm sure she liked it.'"

Hayes decided some of her fellow students misunderstand rape. "Most people know rape is not OK," she says. "But it is never talked about in class."

Writer Laurie Halse Anderson published an influential book in 1999 called Speak, about a high school rape and its effects on a victim. Since then, she has spoken at high schools and middle schools around the U.S., and estimates she has talked to a million kids about rape. "What really strikes me is that, when it comes to recording sexual assaults and wanting to show it off, the young men committing them are not seeing them as crimes, they see them as pranks. And there's no point in pulling a prank unless you share it." Anderson said parents and educators need to talk to younger boys about informed consent. "When I speak to students, I tell boys that if a young woman isn't of age, she isn't capable of giving informed consent, and if she's drunk or high, there's no informed consent. And those cases, if you have sex, you can go to jail. And the jaws drop, because right away, they think of the sex they had at a party last weekend, where everybody was wasted."

Alone in the house she once shared with her only child, Sheila Pott pours herself another glass of chardonnay and wipes away tears that still well up regularly, eight months after Audrie's death. She gives a tour of Audrie's bedroom, where she hasn't moved a thing. On Audrie's dresser, under an earring tree draped with the sparkly baubles her daughter favored, Sheila has placed a simple, hand-tooled metal rose wrapped in a piece of notebook paper. She found it among the flowers at the memorial. It was from a fellow student who scribbled, "I didn't have time to buy you flowers, so I made you one in shop class." He signed it "Matt P."

In the end, whether the pictures really went "viral" or not is irrelevant. Audrie Pott reasonably believed images of her nearly naked body being fondled and abused without her consent were embedded in phones all over school, and that it was only a matter of time before everyone she knew either saw them or knew what had happened to her body.

"With no assault, with no cyberbullying, Audrie is in art class right now," Larry Pott said at the April news conference, choking back tears. The family divulged some of the Facebook messages their very private daughter sent in her last days, deciding it was better, in the wake of her suicide, to reveal the details of what happened than to hide. The messages show her pleading with Joe to delete the pictures. Among her last words were, "You have no idea what it's like to be a girl."

This story is from the September 26th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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