It’s been five years since Daisy Coleman was found on her family’s front lawn in Missouri, wearing only a T-shirt and yoga pants, her hair turned brittle by the cold.
It’s been five years since Coleman, then 14, alleged she had been sexually assaulted by Matthew Barnett, a teenage boy in their small town. Coleman said Barnett plied her with alcohol at a party the night before she was found outside, and then raped her.
And it’s been five years since that accusation led to a felony sexual assault charge against Barnett that was later dropped, before he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. (He said their sex was consensual.)
The case triggered a period of national scrutiny for Coleman’s family and an intense backlash around their town. Coleman became a pariah, a target on social media and in wide-open view: At a dance competition, someone brought a T-shirt declaring “Matt 1, Daisy 0.”
“There were just so many people telling me what they thought I was,” Coleman, now a determined 19-year-old college sophomore.
“They thought I was a slut and a liar,” she says, “and after listening to that for so long and not having many people stand up for me, I started to believe what these people were saying was true: This was all my fault.”
She doesn’t think so any more.
Today Coleman, who is studying art at Missouri Valley College, is aligned with teen sex assault victims behind the national campaign SafeBAE — Safe Before Anyone Else — to help prevent others from enduring sexual violence. She also appeared in Netflix’s documentary Audrie & Daisy, which premiered in September.
“I definitely feel like people have certain views and perceptions about me and about cases like this because they’re uneducated,” Coleman explains. “That’s exactly why I’m going out and trying to educate people on what’s going on in our society.”
Speaking to high school and college student and alumni groups, Coleman, Ella Fairon and Jada Smith talk about their experiences, the backlash and bullying, the reaction of their schools and communities and their fight to change a culture of dating violence and assault.
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