Family offers lessons after suicide

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Sheila Pott (from left), Lisa Pott and Larry Pott talk about their work to combat sexual assault and cyberbullying.

By Ginny Wray

In 2012, Audrie Pott committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted while unconscious and became a victim of cyberbullying when photographs of the crime were shared. She was 15 years old at the time.
But her voice remains strong, spread by her parents, the Audrie Pott Foundation and the Peabody Award winning documentary film “Audrie and Daisy.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Audrie’s parents — mother Sheila Pott, father Larry Pott and stepmother Lisa Pott — brought their message to Henry and Patrick counties. The three California residents spoke at Patrick Henry Community College, to the Piedmont Governor’s School, at a public presentation at New College Institute and twice at Patrick County High School, sponsored by the Southside Survivor Response Center.
Their message was straightforward.
“Be a hero. Step up” when something is wrong, Sheila Pott said, echoing a sentiment shared by the three. “Audrie needed a hero that night and no one stepped up.”
Audrie played jayvee soccer her freshman year in high school and was in the color guard that marched for President Barack Obama’s inauguration, her father said. She was popular, pretty, loved to pull off a good practical joke and “wouldn’t hurt a flea,” he said. She also was funny and feisty, Lisa Pott added.
But on that night seven years ago, she apparently drank too much and passed out. While she was unconscious, she was assaulted by three boys whom she had known since middle school and whom she trusted, and photographs went out to students at three high school campuses, each with enrollments of 2,000 to 2,500 students, her parents said.
She did not remember the assault, her father said. But she could not escape the victim shaming, cyberbullying and rumors, he added.
Audrie did not seek help from any adults, they said. Her father speculated that she thought she would have gotten in trouble with her parents (which she would have, he said, but added that it was nothing like what ensued) and that she thought she could handle the incident. She had handled problems before “but this one was too much for her,” he added.
Eight days later, Audrie died by suicide. Her parents thought she had been bullied but they were unaware of the full extent of the crime until they later discovered her social media accounts and learned what had transpired. No rape kit was used and evidence was destroyed, they said.
The three boys were convicted of five felonies in the incident, the parents said. Two were sentenced to 30 days in jail; one was sentenced to 45.
The sentences sent a “horrible message,” Sheila Pott said. They indicated to boys that there was minimal lasting impact from the crime, and they discouraged girls from reporting an assault, she said.
Audrie’s parents formed the Audrie Pott Foundation to “fight evil with good,” Larry Pott said. It gives Audrie her voice back, he said. “She would have wanted us to tell her story.”
They have done that for nearly 30,000 college, high school and middle school students since then, educating young people about sexual assault, bystander intervention and cyberbullying.
They are attempting to create a culture of caring, Larry Pott said. He urged young men to treat young women with respect, as they would treat their mother or grandmother. He urged young women to look out for each other and call parents, police or others if there is a problem.
Live by the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Pott urged.
Specifically, the parents said:
• Be observant. For instance, she suggested that young people at a party put their phones down and watch to see if someone is being threatened or worse.
* If someone has been assaulted, do not leave them.
• Do not blame the victim. There is never an excuse for sexual assault, Larry Pott said.
• Assault victims should see counselors or some other adult for help.
• Know triggers for suicide, such as a fight with a friend or academic pressures or a relationship breakup. “It’s not our job to fix problems for our friends but to get help” if they suspect someone is suicidal, Sheila Potts said.
• Understand risky behaviors that might indicate someone is suicidal, such as increased alcohol or drug use or someone saying the world would be better off without them.
The foundation also has worked to change laws, with varying degrees of success. Six new laws (five in California and one in New York) have been supported regarding juvenile sex offenses, revenge porn, cyberbullying and the definition of rape, according to press information from the foundation. Also, Audrie’s Law was passed unanimously in 2014, though it did not carry a mandatory one-year jail time as the Potts had hoped, Sheila Pott said.
The Audrie Pott Music Scholarship has been awarded to four students to provide in-home music lessons and contribute towards college education. The foundation also provides financial support to a Bay Area counseling service for youth and an arts center that provide lessons for economically disadvantaged school districts.
The Pott family also participated in the film “Audrie and Daisy,” which was picked up by Netflix and is shown in schools worldwide, as well as the Investigation Discovery television documentary, “Web of Lies” episode “With Friends Like These,” according to the press information.
For more information, go to audriepottfoundation.com.