Madilyn Merritt, student journalist, wants people to start talking openly about sexual assault and to stop blaming victims. She’s using her position on the high school newspaper to push the envelope and call attention to this issue she cares so passionately about.
Madilyn says adults and school administrators in her small town are reluctant to confront the subject of sexual violence, even though adolescents are in the age group most at risk for sexual assault. Students, on the other hand, talk about sexual assault all the time—but without understanding the real dynamics. Madilyn often hears peers blame victims, saying things like, “Why was she out? Why was she drinking?”
To help her peers realize the extent to which sexual violence devastates victims, Madilyn wrote a review of the movie, Audrie and Daisy. The film is a documentary about Audrie Pott of Saratoga, California and Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri, two teen girls who were raped by classmates then vilified and bullied on social media. Audrie died by suicide eight days after the assault, and Daisy tragically took her own life at the age of 23, after years of battling depression from the trauma.
In her article, Madilyn lays out how victim-blaming and being shamed by their peers ultimately led to the girls’ deaths. She also focuses on the biased, unprofessional response from law enforcement in the botched investigation of Daisy’s case.
Madilyn uses the article to show that abuse is never the victim’s fault. She wants her fellow students to recognize that responsibility lies with the perpetrator, who chose to inflict harm.
The school newspaper hasn’t published her article yet. Madilyn suspects it is because school administrators don’t know how to address sexual assault with students. She says that’s exactly why they need to print articles like this—to have the conversation about sexual assault openly.
After she finishes school, Madilyn is considering going into journalism or law enforcement—both fields she sees as uncovering the truth and holding systems and individuals accountable.