CONTENT WARNING: mentions of rape and suicide
I’m sitting on my couch after skipping my lecture to finish this god forsaken addictive Netflix exclusive and I’m sobbing. Literally sobbing. I can hear myself gasping for breath because I’m so hysterical from this damn show. I feel so much empathy for these characters that I feel actual heartache. I relate so closely; some moments appear to be a perfect reflection of my emotions. It forces me to think about thoughts I’m persistently trying to push away about my own emotional wellbeing.
What’s funny is, I went into this show with resentment for its depiction of sensationalised drama. I was expecting another overrated teen-drama with adult nuances, which is what I encountered in the first few episodes. It was an over-hyped version of Skins but with a few different abstracts of mental health issues. For its time, Skins was very confronting. It was topical. It alienated mental health issues; living with manic depression, eating disorders and anxiety, but simultaneously made it seem perfectly normal to not be normal. It also didn’t create a façade of happy endings where everyone magically felt better and *whoosh*!! anxiety gone. All better. That’s why Skins was important then.
Now we have 13 Reasons Why tackling the issues of bullying and rape culture, and how these systemic problems are constantly excused while people subjected to them suffer and become increasingly lonely. I’m a survivor of sexual assault. 13 Reasons Why became very important to me; it reflected what it’s like to live in a world where you’ve been blamed as the victim. Where you’ve had no choice, no voice and no say in what’s been done to you, but everyone blames you anyway. It painted a picture of this feeling of emptiness, of feeling void. It’s this complexity of guilt, self-doubt and blame mixed with hatred and resentment for the perpetrator. It’s this confusion of whether you’re to blame. It’s reliving it every fucking day and wondering if it happened because you didn’t do anything to properly stop it, even if you said no. It’s this feeling of shame and it shadows you.
You will battle yourself daily, for why it happened, why it was you, why you’re not doing enough to punish them, if you should tell people, if you can ever trust anyone else again. Once someone has taken away your voice, your ability to make a choice, you will never be able to feel the same way about your own body again. You will never feel the same way about how people see you, how you see you. This is why this show was so important to me, but also why it was so hard to watch, so difficult to enjoy. It’s uncomfortable.
I also know that I’m not alone in this. I imagine others would watch this and see the struggles of these characters and also have complexities of emotions that resonate with them. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know that everything Jessica felt, I have felt. Everything Hannah felt the night she was raped, I have felt. It’s not often you see that illustrated so accurately in a TV show. This is why this show is so important. It actually depicts a reality many of us have faced or continue to face.
According to the ABS, Australia has hit a five-year peak increase of sexual assault, with 88 in every 100,000 people falling victim to sexual assault. The statistics also show that of those people, 83 per cent are female, 60 per cent of those victims were 19 and under, and it is estimated that a whopping 70 per cent of sexual assault incidents remain unreported, mine included. That shows that we don’t even have accurate statistics that truly represent this issue, which is why we need to provoke discussion so people feel comfortable in opening up. The reason people don’t report is because the trial process is traumatising and intimidating, but also because of the culture of victim blaming that circulates this issue. In NSW, only 7.4 per cent of reported sexual offences were convicted and only an estimated 4 per cent actually served full sentence. We need to be having these discussions to make positive changes, and it will only happen when we are confronted with the issues.
Despite this, the show has its critics. It’s been said to glorify suicide: a credible point, as it encourages a “when I die, they’ll be sorry” line of thinking. It also graphically shows Hannah taking her own life, which might encourage copycat suicides. It also generates a reaction from people that can be quite concerning, myself included. My anxiety and my issues with self-loathing seemed more prevalent after finishing the show. The confronting nature of the show is sure to bring about a spiral of complex emotions, and so to watch it is at one’s owns risk. If you think you are someone who might be negatively impacted by it, I wouldn’t recommend watching it.
However, it gets people thinking about their actions and the possible consequences of the actions. At the end of the day, suicide is a very real problem. In 2015, 12, 600 per 100,000 people in Australia took their own lives, comparable with 10, 200 in 2006. It’s moved from 14th highest cause of death to 13th, above liver disease, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer and even breast cancer. Yet the stigma around mental health still acts as a barrier for seeing it as an issue that requires as much attention and funding as breast cancer. In 2015, suicide represented 33.9% (one-third) of cause of deaths of persons between the ages 15-24 years. Perhaps glorifying something that is a very real issue in society is a necessary evil to force people to have the conversations needed to start tackling the issue. 13 Reasons Why is important because it’s a true reflection of issues we face and it makes us face uncomfortable truths that force us to have conversations we probably wouldn’t otherwise have. The attached sensationalised drama helps to attract people that wouldn’t otherwise be confronted by these topics.
Basically, the show is worth watching. Don’t get me wrong, some parts are tedious and fucking frustrating. Some characters are absolute tossers who incite rage within you. It’s confronting, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s sad, so fucking sad. That is precisely why it’s relevant and important. It’s acknowledging real issues. It’s not some fucking Degrassi High, One Tree Hill type shit that’s based around some romantic love triangle with the popular girl and the quarterback. It’s not Legally Blonde with the sorority girls laughing when a guy objectifies them and slaps their ass. The show faces the facts: it’s not fucking okay or light humoured to objectify women. It’s not okay to bully others. It’s not okay to push a person past the boundaries of their consent.
But it is okay to not be okay, and to ask for help.
If this article brings up any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au for crisis support. 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) and 1800respect.org.au is the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counseling service.
For immediate assistance please call 000.