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“13 Reasons Why”: Courageously Tackling Sexual Violence

Written by Savannah Esposito

The Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” aired in March 2017. This show has a second season to be released in spring/summer 2018. The television show rocked the nation with its genuine rawness to the realities of topics such as bullying, suicide, and rape. Lots of shows shy away from the dark realities, and skip over the brutal rape scenes or even sexualize them. The US culture seems to run from controversial topics in television. As of late though, some shows are tackling these very important topics.

In “13 Reasons Why” Hannah Baker undergoes extreme bullying and sexual violence. The school and classmates do nothing to stop it, engage in it, and worse brush it aside. This show is so poignant when tackling the topic of rape culture and sexual violence. This is one of the first shows meant for teenagers, that depicts rape isn’t the bad guy hiding in the bushes, but rather can be someone you know. Bryce, who not only victimizes one girl but keeps going to find more, thinks “every girl in the school wants to be raped,” is the perpetrator in this show.

Hannah Baker gave thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. Her own mental health was affected and further compounded by these individuals who bullied and violated her. The final straw in her life was when Bryce rapes Hannah in his hot-tub.

Bryce Walker, on the surface, is a jock loved by the school. But if one looks deeper,  he is a guy who seems to feel powerless in his own life. Raping the girls at his school,  he feels powerful and wanted. Bryce is the alpha male in his group of friends, and very controlling. His friend Justin, who is Jessica’s boyfriend, is locked out of the bedroom when Justin knows Bryce is going to rape Jessica. Justin gives up outside the door, wracked with guilt, but nonetheless stands down to Bryce. Bryce sees an unconscious Jessica on the bed and rapes her.

Jessica’s Rape Scene

The scene was directed, written, and filmed authentically for the accuracy of the horror of the act. The scene is shown from three different perspectives. The first perspective is Hannah’s, who is hiding in the closet. The second perspective is Justin’s, who bursts into the room before being locked out. Lastly, it’s Jessica’s later on when she remembers bits and pieces. The rape is not graphic in the way of body parts being shown, but graphic in the way of the sounds, being pinned down and dominated. The scene is absolutely unspeakable in the most authentic way. The audience gets a glimpse of what rape is, what most rape victims go through. Statistically, most rapes are perpetrated by those we know, and “13 Reasons Why” shows just that. Your boyfriends best friend is your rapist.

Hannah’s Rape Scene

Hannah’s rape scene is just as horrific but in a different way. Neither Jessica nor Hannah’s rapes are sexualized, which is so important. The focus is not on sexual body parts but rather the real fear, dominance, and the overwhelming feeling of being trapped and helpless.

Hannah’s rape scene occurs in the hot-tub when it’s her and Bryce in the tub alone. The scene is very close and personal. We can see her discomfort in being alone with Bryce. Visibly we see her looking around, anxious, uncomfortable. Also, Bryce making a move on her, moving closer, he tries to flatter her. She says, “I better get going,” and he pulls her back into the hot-tub.  He grabs her, pushing her against the edge of the tub, holding her there so she can’t move. We see her crying, “please, Bryce,” wanting it to stop.

The audience see’s Hannah’s face as the rape is happening, him holding her head on the ground, and we as the audience experience that pain, or we flinch and look away at the sheer horror of witnessing such a violating act. If the audience does watch Hannah’s face, we see the pain when penetration occurs and soon see her glaze over in dissociation as the rape happens. She looks like a corpse with the expression on her face, not moving, like an animal playing dead.

Rape Culture

When Hannah, before deciding to commit suicide, reaches out one last time for help by seeing the school counselor, Mr. Porter, she is further shamed and victimized. The counselor was not present, was distracted and made the fatal mistake of telling her to move on. Hannah never used the word “rape” but her demeanor showed that the content of what she was disclosing was very serious. Mr. Porter wanted to help Hannah but made the fatal mistake that most make in our culture, by thinking that she had sex and she now regrets it, or asking about if the guy forced himself on her. Hannah replies, “I think so” and Mr. Porter unintentionally furthers his attacking stance by saying, “you think so, but you are not sure,” and continues asking if she said “no” or “stop” and Hannah says she did not, which further victimizes her in her own head.

Mr. Porter continues asking about whether she consented but changed her mind, and she says it wasn’t like that. Mr. Porter fails again when he doesn’t ask her what it was like, but wants to know the perpetrator’s name. Given that Hannah refuses to tell him the name Mr. Porter misses the clues of her saying that she is tired of life, and tells her to “move on” if she isn’t going to press charges. Hannah attempts to leave, Mr. Porter wants her to stay, but she leaves, thinking there is no hope left. She waits outside, seeing if Mr. Porter really wanted to help her, and figured if he did he would follow her, but he did not show.

Reporting to Mr. Porter

This television show is so important for not only taking the audience on a journey, exploring mental health issues and bullying but the sexual violence that permeates our culture, so much so, that victims are shamed and perpetrators are glorified. With Mr. Porter and the classmates, it’s clear that the schools’ culture is victim blaming. Hannah and Jessica both suffer from figuring out how to deal with what they went through. Hannah, choosing to commit suicide, thinking that there is no help and the culture will not see Bryce as a predator. Jessica, drinks, trying to forget what happened, and once she remembers that night she can’t let it go.

This show is powerful in so many ways and is very honest in addressing a lot of the issues in the show. The controversy over the show has been because of the fact that the show dared to be graphic and raw, with showing the realities of sexual assault, and how they showed the suicide scene. The graphicness is not glorified, but rather it’s painful and horrific to see such an individual suffer in a profound way. This show can be triggering to those who have gone through similar things, so do be cautious if you want to watch the show. Know where you are at in your own healing and if you are in a stable place to watch a show that tackles these issues with such authenticity.

Anyone out there who’s been bullied, assaulted or is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there’s help and there are people who care.

Resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Call 1-800-656-4673

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

For more interesting reading on this subject see

Rape in Relationships: What Happens Next?

 

 

 

 

About the author

Savannah Esposito

Savannah has been writing since she was fifteen years old when she started a book series, which became popular online. She attended SCAD, studying Creative and Dramatic writing until she transferred to John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study Forensic Psychology. She now has a blog called Millennial Mrs and Mom that she writes while she finishes pursuing her education.

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