Content warning: This piece deals with rape and suicide.
Don’t get me wrong—rape is rape. If one person is not consenting, even if they gave their consent initially and then withdrew it, it’s still rape. The truth is there is only one shade of rape and it’s as dark and black as they come. However, the media at the moment is shining a light on this topic and exposing the many ways that it can happen and people who can be responsible.
The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has hit the headlines as a series about suicide. For those of you who do not know what it is about, the series tells the story of a young girl in high school who felt her friends and parents let her down. She witnesses the rape of her friend, and then is raped herself and eventually, sadly, kills herself.
While it does indeed focus on the suicide of its main character, Hannah Baker, the truth is, it’s much more about rape and the issues with talking about it. It is not stranger rape—the people in this series know their attackers and that is a reality.
At the heart of these depictions is a vulnerable victim who is made to feel powerless. The distressing scene where Hannah gives up fighting back is a brutal but necessary truth that we have a fight, flight or freeze response to threat and many victims react with freeze. This does not mean they are consenting. Victims can be left feeling they could have done more, fought harder, but the reality is, this response is an inbuilt natural reaction to life threatening situations and it is not their fault. It is their body and mind fighting back and trying to survive the ordeal.
13 Reasons Why has brought the debate about talking about suicide in the media and its potential effects, such as copycat deaths in already vulnerable people. I personally do not agree with the way this series graphically depicts Hannah’s suicide. I worry that it may just legitimize suicide as a response to the huge stresses teenagers are under, plus the reaction of angry teens creating their own ‘tape’ meme’s shows it can be twisted to become a weapon rather than a lesson.
Despite this, one thing I hope it does successfully do is raise awareness about rape, a topic that we are not addressing properly. The easy access for young teens to violent pornography that depicts nothing more than punishment sex and women enjoying it. The alcohol and drug fuelled parties that are now more a normal part of teenage life and continue on to university.
- 1 in 5 women have experience sexual violence.
- 1 in 3 teen girls have been pressured into performing sexual acts they did not want to
- 82% of all sexual assault victims under 18 are female.
- 90% know their attacker.
We cannot ignore these kinds of statistics. Unfortunately, the ages of the viewers that 13 Reasons Why is aimed at are sadly probably only too aware of the issue of rape and sexual pressure among their friends. The people who should be watching this series are their parents, to see what the reality of being a teenager is now like. I would love to say it’s over-exaggerated or plays to the drama, but sadly I think it’s a fair portrayal.
So if you are a parent or a teacher, I would highly recommend you give the series a watch, not for entertainment but as a glimpse into the pressures faced by so many young men and women both in and outside of school today.