Though season 2 of 13 Reasons Why was already in production when Tarana Burke's #MeToo movement gained national attention in autumn 2017, the series feels as timely as ever. Over the course of the sophomore instalment, it is revealed the way rapist Bryce (Justin Prentice) used his army of protectors and enablers to get away with his heinous crimes. Bryce, however, isn't the only man guilty of sexual assault — and, as season 2 of 13 Reasons Why illuminates, Hannah (Katherine Langford), Jessica (Alisha Boe), and others who count Bryce as their assaulter are not the only survivors.
In episode 13, Jessica takes the stand to testify against Bryce, who was arrested in the penultimate episode of the season. It's an incredibly powerful moment for Jessica, as she, a woman of colour, was afraid that she wasn't the "right victim" to stand up to white, privileged Bryce and win her case against him with the truth. Standing in front of the judge, she tells the truth about what Bryce did to her the night of her own party. Then, the show cuts to other women of 13 Reasons Why. They all share their own stories of sexual assault and harassment, from across a wide range of life experiences.
"I wanted to slow down but he told me not to be a tease," Nina (Samantha Logan) says. "He pushed me down on the couch and said he was glad I waited for him."
"He said if I showed my body better, people wouldn't think I was a lesbian... Then he grabbed me on the inside of my thigh," says Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) recalling her encounter with Montgomery (Timothy Granaderos) at the spring dance.
"At that moment, we were left alone, and he picked me up. He just picked me up and carried me behind the fence," Hannah's mother Olivia (Kate Walsh) says. "He laid down on top of me and took my pants off. I fought and I fought, but he was 18 and I was 12."
"I found out later that this guard had a reputation," says Sheri (Ajiona Alexus) of her time in juvenile detention. "When he got up from my bed and left, my roommate rolled over and told me it happened to most of the girls."
The scene is a chilling one, because as far as the audience knows, these women never got to "really" tell their stories. Instead, we're left with the idea that most women have these anecdotes, even though such a small fraction of them have the opportunity or ability to claim them in court.
It's also disturbing to see that, despite the (white male) judge hearing Jessica's painful account of her own rape, he lets Bryce off with a stern warning and three months of probation. It is a statistically accurate conclusion. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators of sexual assault will end up in prison.
"When we leave this court room, Bryce Walker gets to leave convinced he chose the wrong girl to have sex with," Jessica tells the judge. "I get to leave constantly looking over my shoulder for monsters dressed up as the popular kid."
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.
Can time really be up on sexual assault when rapists are protected over survivors? Sharing these #MeToo stories is one thing, but without accountability, survivors may as well be talking to an empty courtroom.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.