Daisy Coleman already knows that a life can change overnight. Nearly two years ago, at age 14, the Missouri teen was hanging out with her 13-year-old best friend. She was, by her own admission, drinking and “texting with a boy that my older brother had warned me about.” She and the friend snuck out of the house and went to see the boy.
The next morning, her mother found her passed out in the freezing cold on their porch, her hair frozen. She soon realized she was also, as she puts it, “hurt down in my privates.” Though charges were filed against the boy involved, a popular athlete named Matthew Barnett, as well as a student named Jordan Zech who’d allegedly recorded the incident, they were soon dropped. In contrast to the apparent ease with which the boys moved on with their lives, Coleman and her family claim they were subjected to ongoing social retribution. They eventually left town. A family’s world turned upside down, because of what happened on Jan. 8, 2012.
But things changed overnight again on Oct. 12, 2013. That’s when the Kansas City Star ran a lengthy investigative piece on the Coleman story — and raised troubling questions about the way local officials handled it. In the days since, Coleman has been vocal about what she says happened to her, demanding justice and calling County Sheriff Darren White’s assertion that the family was uncooperative with authorities “an absolute lie.” Anonymous has demanded “an immediate investigation” and the county prosecutor is seeking to reopen the case. The “Justice for Daisy” campaign has become a full-fledged movement. And now, in a candid “It Happened to Me” essay for XOJane on Friday, Coleman has revealed more of her side of the story.
In the piece, Coleman speaks of Barnett encouraging her to drink clear alcohol from the “bitch cup,” blacking out and being “left for dead” and “discarded in the snow.” Later, she says, “I was suspended from the cheerleading squad and people told me that I was asking for it and would get what was coming.’” But now, she says, “I refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer.”
Coleman made the choice, from the moment she opened up to the Kansas City Star, to use her real name, despite the usual protections that surround minors in these cases. (Her friend from that fateful night, Paige Borlan, has also come forward. An unidentified male student admitted to authorities on the night in question “although [Borlan] said ‘no’ multiple times, he undressed her, put a condom on and had sex with her.”) In putting herself out in the public eye in such a conspicuous way, the high schooler clearly is aware she’s making herself vulnerable to more shaming and more blaming. She knows damn well that she’s still living in a country where girls are implicated in their own sexual abuse. But it appears she’s learned over the past two years that hoping people won’t be mean doesn’t work, so you might as well speak out, loudly and often. It’s a gutsy gambit, and an example to other girls and women. The investigating sheriff told the Kansas City Star this weekend, “I guess they’re just going to have to get over it.” Daisy Coleman is saying that’s not good enough.
But perhaps the most striking thing in the entire moving, gut-punching tale is how Coleman ends it. She makes it a story not about bad behavior but decency, not about victims or perpetrators but allies. She talks about her brothers. Coleman would like to remind us all that the old “boys will be boys excuse is useless and weak,” that the idea that an incapacitated girl is fair game because no red-blooded dude can control himself is patently false. She knows that believing that stereotype insults not just women but all the many, many non-predatory men out there who manage to go through life without being sex offenders. “I just hope more men will take a lesson from my brothers,” she writes. “They look out for women. They don’t prey on them.”