It's hard to imagine the courage it took for Audrie Pott's parents to call a news conference Monday and describe their daughter, the pain she faced in the aftermath of an alleged sexual attack last September and their own struggle to cope with her suicide.
Whatever the outcome of court cases, the family has done a great service to this community and to the nation. Bringing Audrie's beautiful face and tragic story out of the shadows, they force the rest of us to confront behavioral trends that should unnerve parents of girls and boys everywhere.
Audrie suffered mightily. The pain she endured in the days following that alcohol-fueled party are stark evidence of a culture that still, inexplicably, blames victims for sexual assault.
The details of the attack and the bullying and intimidation Audrie faced are unclear. But it appears that a photograph of her body -- partially nude and scribbled, essentially, with graffiti -- was shared at least with about 10 people.
Whether it was 10 people or 1,000 doesn't matter. Audrie believed that her body, her privacy, her very being had been violated, and that the whole world was smirking at the evidence. Thanks to her parents, we know precisely what that belief did to her.
"I'm in hell," Audrie wrote on Facebook. "The whole school is talking about it." And, "My life is ruined. I can't do anything to fix it."
This 15-year-old was so intoxicated she couldn't remember what happened that night. She was so ashamed, she felt the only answer was to take her own life.
We don't vilify burglary victims who leave their windows open, or murder victims who walk down dark streets. But young women like Audrie too often face what's popularly called "slut-shaming" in the wake of sexual attacks.
The Palo Alto High School magazine Verde bravely tackled this topic this week, interviewing rape victims about the bullying and intimidation they faced afterward. This is not rare. It is endemic to our culture. Texting and social media have made it easier and, as Audrie doubtless knew, less likely to quickly fade in memory. The boys accused of assaulting her are not charged with rape, but her emotional pain could hardly have been worse.
Audrie's parents say they will press for legislation to address aspects of this case, including bullying, and we look forward to their proposals. But laws alone can't change a culture that, on some level, holds women and girls responsible for whatever happens if they let down their guard and that sometimes even sympathizes with those who take advantage of them.
That's why what Audrie's parents did this week is so important. Their openness about her pain can help to dispel some of the stigma she felt and, we hope, will inspire families to talk about the lessons of her life and death.
Among the most important: People don't feel ashamed of things that society doesn't find shameful. It's up to all of us to change cultural attitudes toward sexual assault.