As Daisy Coleman, Ella Fairon and Jada Smith ate dessert and chatted about their college classes in the UMKC cafeteria Thursday night, few would have guessed the story behind their friendship.
All three women survived sexual assault before the age of 18. Coleman’s case, which unfolded in Maryville, Missouri, saw all charges dropped against her assailant, a popular football player and grandson of a state representative. Following her rape at a party, Coleman became relentlessly bullied on social media and even had her house burned down by other town residents.
Now, five years after the assault received viral news coverage, Coleman works with Smith, Fairon and her brother as cofounders of SafeBAE (Before Anything Else), an organization combatting rape and bullying. The group visited UMKC for a viewing of Audrie and Daisy, a documentary about sexual assault in small towns that incorporated Coleman’s story. After the viewing, the group held a follow-up panel with UMKC community members.
“We’re going to keep talking about [rape] until we don’t have to talk about it anymore, until people already know and until there is no such thing as rape culture,” Fairon stated.
The viewing of Audrie and Daisy announced the first part of this process towards raising awareness. The film chronicled Coleman’s struggle to report and seek justice following her assault. Comments made on camera by former Maryville sheriff Darren White illuminated the pervasive rape culture Coleman speaks out about today.
“Things were made up,” White asserts in the documentary. “Don’t underestimate the need for attention, especially for young girls.”
The rapidly circulated hashtags #daisyisaliar and #ihatedaisy further channeled this victim-blaming mentality.
As she reflected on the traumatizing experience, Coleman emphasized concern for future generations and potential new victims.
“[White] has two lovely daughters, one who I danced with in high school,” Coleman said. “The whole time he was being a jerk to me, all I could think was, ‘I hope nothing ever happens to your daughters.’ They’re great people and I would hate to see someone treat them how he treated me.”
Coleman, Fairon and Smith’s organization produces videos, provides educational resources and regularly visits schools. In the past month, SafeBAE also travelled to Pittsburgh State University and was featured in Teen Vogue. Their latest video campaign gained thousands of online shares. Titled #QuitThisShit, the campaign focuses on preventing bullying and backlash towards rape survivors.
For these impassioned young adults, this success only represents the beginning. Their main goals going forward include addressing consent with younger audiences.
“You should start the conversation as soon as [someone] is able to talk and walk. If they don’t want to hug their grandma or give their uncle a kiss because they just feel weird about it, you shouldn’t force them, which parents often do,” Smith advised. “Let them know that their ‘no’ means no and their ‘yes’ means yes, so as they grow up and grow older you can introduce what sexual consent is and they can know that their word means something.”
To contribute, SafeBAE cofounders suggest that alumni reach out to their high schools and middle schools and recommend these institutions make Audrie and Daisy a required, in-class viewing.
For more information about SafeBAE, visit safebae.org.