Does S3 of ‘13 Reasons Why’ excuse the rapist?

Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is currently one of the most controversial series out there, leaving its viewers with mixed emotions towards whether how it’s showing cases of rape and sexual assault is right or wrong. 

The series is about teen Hannah Baker, who committed suicide and left tape-recordings giving reasons as to why she did so. Two of the reasons are because fellow student Bryce Walker raped Hannah, her friend Jessica, and several unnamed characters, making Bryce one of the evillest characters on TV. 

Rape and sexual abuse are some of the main issues the show tackles, including male rape; in season 2, Bryce’s friend Monty sexually assaults Tyler Down with a broom. While it’s important to make people aware of such problems, I believe that 13RW could do better in its promotion against sexual assault. 

I finished season 2, vowing that I would not watch the final season after witnessing what happened to Tyler, but when season 3 came out, I had to see Jessica gain justice; in season 2, Jessica shares the story of Bryce raping her in the hope of his prosecution. However, this isn’t the case. Clearly the show is criticising the justice system’s treatment of rape cases, but showing this may act as a deterrent to rape victims for seeking justice. If talking in front of a crowd of people under oath about one of the worst experiences a person can endure isn’t scary enough, the thought of not getting justice may deter victims from speaking out. Therefore, I disagree with the show.  

I hoped to see Bryce and Monty behind bars when watching season 3, but this wasn’t the case. In this season, Bryce is instead murdered, and protagonist Clay Jenson and new character Ani, alongside the other characters, are determined to find out who did it. Instead of seeing Bryce receive his punishment, we see a series of flashbacks of his life, post-court case, portraying his redemption arc and placing him in a sympathetic light.

Killing Bryce doesn’t give Jessica, Hannah nor the other girls justice, nor does having Monty killed in prison give Tyler justice. Viewers are encouraged to sympathise with Bryce, who is now hated by everyone, except for Jessica’s friend, Ani, who dates him. Is it socially acceptable to sympathise with a serial rapist? I think not.

Bryce escapes further responsibility for his crimes when the show presents his urge to sexually assault women as a mental illness stemmed from his familial relationships. This not only excuses Bryce’s actions but it steals his victims’ right for justice. It’s just not ok. Given that Chanel Miller has just publicly read out her impact statement against Brock Turner, where she reacts to his blaming his actions on alcohol, it’s shocking to see this same scapegoating is still being considered an acceptable plot device by Netflix producers.

In the final episode, Bryce leaves Jess a tape-recording apologising for raping her – the end of his character’s redemption arc and leaving him in a sympathetic light. It’s like the show’s suggesting that by having her abuser apologise for what he did, Jess will forget about what happened, move on, feel that her body is hers again and enjoy sex as though she’d never been hurt. It’s more likely that listening to this would be frustrating for her than bring a sense of relief. And what about Hannah and the other victims? Where is their apology?

So, despite displaying a gripping storyline and working through important issues, like many other viewers, I believe that the 13 Reasons Why’s treatment of sexual abuse isn’t right and needs to seriously be reconsidered.

Image: Netflix

Tilly O’Brien

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