State Senator Jim Beall has introduced SB 838, named Audrie’s Law in memory of Saratoga High student Audrie Pott. Pott, who was raped at a student party in 2012, killed herself when pictures of the crime were posted by the assailants online. The bill has two major components. First, it closes a legal loophole. Currently, when a juvenile commits sexual assault on an incapacitated victim, they cannot be tried in adult court. SB 838 would change that. Second, it establishes criminal penalties for cyberbullying- both as a misdemeanor and a felony, based on the nature of the content shared. This would be in contrast to the punishment of the teens that assaulted Pott who received 30-45 days detention by a juvenile court.
The Internet has escalated the impact of sexual assault on its young victims. Social media can spread embarrassing and humiliating information far and wide in very little time. Facebook messages Audrie posted after she was assaulted indicated she knew pictures of her unconscious, unclothed body were circulating online and “the whole school knows.” She could not live with the shame.
Will Audrie’s Law make bullies think twice before hitting the “post” button if they know they could face prison time? If our community learned anything from the tragedy of Audrie Pott, it should be that rapists- teen or otherwise- are opportunists who strike when they think they can avoid punishment. Perhaps the specter of real, hard time will give them pause. The excuse that “she was drunk” is not a free pass. Nor should teens think it harmless fun to post a few pictures of their passed out roommate. The efforts of Senator Beall to educate teens and their parents are essential, and hopefully decrease the potential for this to happen again.