There are many aspects of Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ that have been criticised and debated since it hit Netflix in April. The most obvious being whether the show glorifies suicide – and whether it was really necessary to show a method of suicide so graphically. But it has also sparked a slew of debates over sexual harassment, mental health and rape myths
Even so, Alisha Boe, who plays the part of Jessica Davis in the series, indicates that the show has merely scratched the surface. The attitudes of viewers towards her character – a rape survivor – show just how far we still need to go to understand sexual abuse.
SPOILER ALERT – don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the series.
Jessica is the subject of one of Hannah Baker’s early tapes, where she rejects Hannah’s friendship and blames her for her split with their mutual friend Alex Standall. Jessica later goes out with the guy who humiliated Hannah, Justin Foley. In Episode 9, she is raped by Justin’s friend Bryce while she is drunk at a party. Her boyfriend is locked outside. He lies to her about the event, which Hannah describes on the tape, and claims that Hannah made it up. When the truth comes out, she dumps Justin.
“It’s super interesting, because I didn’t expect [the reaction Jessica got – because when we filmed the show… I thought everyone would sympathise with Jessica because of what she’s been through,” Alisha told Elite Daily. “To me, that made the most sense.
“She’s a survivor and she’s been trying to deal with it and she’s acting out because of it.
“But when I realised when the show came out, I was getting comments and being tagged in photos and fan theories that I can’t help but look at, but basically, people are slut-shaming Jessica.”
She went on to explain: “They’re calling her a bitch, and they’re saying that she deserved it, that [Jessica] should take Justin back and [she] shouldn’t be that drunk at a party, and it made me take a second and step back and realise, wow, we as a society are not able to not not blame the rape survivor, but more so we want to take Justin’s side because he’s charming and has a nice smile.
“And that makes me so hurt and angry, and it makes me want to get more involved in being an advocate for women and men who are sexually assaulted and survivors of rape, because the conversation still hasn’t changed.”
Remember this next time someone says, “What do you mean? Women are equal, aren’t they?”
If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on the Rape Crisis England and Wales website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999.