Lawyer: US girl saw details online of sex assault

SARATOGA, California (AP) - The parents of a 15-year-old California girl who took her own life after she was allegedly sexually abused and an explicit photo of the assault circulated among her classmates want the three boys who have been arrested in the case prosecuted as adults, a lawyer for the family said.

Together with two other episodes recently in the news - a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio - the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.

The authorities in Saratoga, California, arrested the three 16-year-olds on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie Pott, a Saratoga High School sophomore who hanged herself in September. The arrests this week shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000 as new details of the case emerged.

"We're talking about, other than murdering someone, the highest degree of a crime you could possibly do, which is to violate them in the worst of ways... and then to effectively rub her face in it afterwards," Mr Robert Allard, the lawyer representing the teenager's mother, father and stepmother, said on Friday.

However, lawyers for the three boys, whose names have not been released because they are minors, released a statement on Friday asking the public to withhold judgment until their clients can give their side of the story, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

"Much of what has been reported over the last several days is inaccurate. Most disturbing is the attempt to link (Audrie's) suicide to the specific actions of these three boys," the statement from San Jose attorneys Eric Geffon, Alan Lagod and Benjamin Williams reads. "We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent."

Mr Allard said the trouble started over the Labour Day holiday weekend last September while Audrie was on a sleepover at a friend's house where the parents were gone.

"Audrie, by all accounts, consumed some of that alcohol and eventually went upstairs to go to sleep and woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable", concluding that she had been molested, he said.

She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture and e-mails. She also discovered that her attackers were three boys she considered friends - young men in whom she had confided, the lawyer said. On Facebook, Audrie wrote that the whole school knew what happened, and she complained that her life was ruined, Mr Allard said.

Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.

"She was being consoled by other friends, and they were concerned about her," the lawyer said. "One day, she apparently felt that she couldn't cope with it anymore and poor Audrie was traumatised to the point where she ended her life."

Her parents did not learn about the assault until after her death, when Audrie's friends approached them, Mr Allard said.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told the Mercury News that investigators for her department started looking into the circumstances surrounding Audrie's Sept 10 suicide in the days immediately following it. A deputy assigned to Saratoga High heard rumours about the sexual assault and possible photographic evidence, and detectives spent months interviewing students and subpoenaing cell phone records.

In Canada, meanwhile, police said on Friday they have received new information and are reopening their investigation in the case of 17-year-old suicide victim Rehtaeh Parsons.

Ms Parsons was photographed while being sexually assaulted in 2011 and was then bullied after the photo was shared on the Web, the authorities said. Police initially concluded there were no grounds to charge anyone.

In Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players were convicted last month of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl in a crime that was recorded on cellphones by students and gossiped about online. The victim herself realised she had been attacked after seeing text messages, a photo of herself naked and a video that mocked her.

"The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly," said Ms Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools.

Audrie's family has alleged her attackers tried to destroy evidence. That claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in the girl's name.

It did not provide further details on what type of evidence might have been targeted by the suspects. However, it asked any students with information to come forward.

"That was one thing that really bothered the parents," Mr Allard said. "For the past seven months they've been living their lives as if nothing happened, attending school as normal sophomores, while they're suffering indescribably for the loss of their daughter."

Mr Allard, who hired two former San Jose police officers to investigate what happened, said Thursday's arrests "reopened a wound" for the girl's family members, and they have gone into seclusion. But they want to see action taken again those who passed the photo around. Her mother, father and stepmother have scheduled a Monday news conference where they plan to discuss how they found out about the attack.