Audrie Pott loved art, horses and skiing, and was known to sing as she made her way down the mountain. The 15-year-old played viola and piano. As a soccer player, her family said, she “had a nose for the goal.”
The Saratoga High School sophomore’s world changed one September night on what was supposed to be a “small little gathering” with friends.
Authorities this week alleged that Pott was sexually assaulted by three teenage boys, one of whom snapped a picture of the alleged attack.
The photo quickly circulated among Pott’s classmates. The teen wrote on her Facebook page that it was the “worst day ever,” according to her family’s attorney, Robert Allard. “The whole school knows,” she wrote. “My life is like ruined now.”
A week after the alleged attack, Pott committed suicide.
On Thursday, seven months after the alleged attack, authorities arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery. Two of the teenagers, whose names were not released, were Saratoga High students; the other was a former student who now attends a different high school.
An investigation into the alleged attack, along with Pott’s suicide, is ongoing.
“These boys savagely assaulted and destroyed a little girl,” the attorney said.
Allard said the news “brought out new emotions” from Pott’s family, but they were “happy” the arrests had been made.
“They’ve lost their baby girl,” Allard said. “But they are relieved to know that after several months of these boys living their lives as though nothing had happened … finally justice is being served.”
The incident is one of several incidents involving alleged assaults and cyberbulling that attracted headlines in recent months. Last month, two Ohio high school football stars were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl. A photo was circulated showing the girl naked and passed out.
And in Canada, a woman said her 17-year-old daughter hanged herself last week, more than a year after she was allegedly sexually assaulted at a house party. In a lengthy Facebook message, Leah Parsons alleged her daughter, Rehtaeh, was bullied and had become depressed after a photo of the alleged assault went viral at her high school.
Police investigated that incident, but no charges were filed. Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry this week asked government officials whether it would be possible to review the case.
Brendesha Tynes, an expert in cyberbullying and an associate professor at USC, said the sharing of photos were indicative of today’s teenage behavior.
“It’s a part of teen culture to put everything that they do online, so that’s why you see it after the assault,” she said. “You would think that people would say, ‘Oh, I will get caught if I share this,’ but it’s so entrenched in their culture to share what they’ve done, a lot of times they’re not even thinking of it.”
Tory Cox, a clinical assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, said cyberbullying -- which has turned bullying into a “24/7 reality for students” -- would compound an already traumatic event like a sexual assault.
“You’ve added on to it a very public humiliation,” he said. “The landscape of social media is that everything sticks. It doesn’t go away. It’s accessible for 10 years -- you can Google her name and get a report. It becomes this snowball that never goes away.”
The arrests this week left residents in Saratoga, an upscale suburb in Silicon Valley, stunned.
In a statement Friday, the superintendent of the school district attended by Pott and two of the suspects said the district was cooperating with the ongoing investigation. Supt. Bob Mistele said officials would “continue to work diligently to maintain a positive climate at our high schools based on respect, responsibility and open communication that discourages cyberbullying and inappropriate conduct.”
“Our sympathies go out to all of the families involved,” he said.
Allard, the attorney for the Pott family, said his clients are pushing for “Audrie’s Law,” which they hope would stiffen penalties on cyberbullying and strengthen laws on sexual assault by trying adolescents as adults.
“Her parents really want something positive to come from something like this,” he said.
The family hopes the teenage suspects, who are expected to appear in court next week, will be treated as adults as they move through the legal system, Allard said. They also believe the boys tried to conceal or destroy evidence -- “basically by pressing the delete button,” he said.