Warning: spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why.
A lot has been said about Netflix's new series 13 Reasons Why, which is based on Jay Asher's 2007 YA novel of the same name. The series has been praised for its gritty, unflinching portrayal of uncomfortable topics like suicide, depression, and sexual assault. Yet for all the truth that 13 Reasons Why dishes out, not everyone is particularly thrilled with how one plot point played out — specifically when it came to how Bryce (Justin Prentice) was treated by the rest of his classmates.
One issue that reviewers had in their analysis of 13 Reasons Why was with how the students called out on Hannah's 13 tapes chose to stand by Bryce — whom Hannah (Katherine Langford) announces raped both her and her friend Jessica (Alisha Boe) — rather than turn him in for the crimes. Not everyone who was on the tapes committed a crime, so why protect Bryce? For some viewers, it seemed more logical that the students would be disgusted by Bryce's actions and call for his punishment.
I wish this argument made sense — I wish that, in real life, teens would turn in their classmate for doing something so unforgivable. Yet we know for certain that's not true: people have stayed silent about rape for far less than what the characters on 13 Reasons Why had to deal with.
On the series, Bryce is a popular, rich, and well-liked student. He's a bit of a jerk, sure, but not necessarily the bully you might expect, a la the show's aggressively awful Montgomery (Timothy Granaderos). One could imagine that the students at Liberty High School didn't think that Bryce was capable of rape — or that someone as popular as him would "need" to force a woman to have sex with him. (Something Bryce himself tells Clay after Clay listens to his tape later on in the series.) Yet Bryce commits rape when he is given an "opportunity" with an incapacitated Jessica, and again with a vulnerable Hannah.
The only person talking about either assault is Hannah, the victim who is no longer here — and so, it's easy to discredit her. Why would someone want to discredit Hannah? Because, well, it's easier. Hannah has been the victim of slut-shaming throughout most of her high school career — and we know that a woman's past is often called into question when deciding whether or not to believe her story of assault. It's a lot easier to say "Well, Hannah's lying, and that's that" than to admit that you've befriended someone capable of such a heinous crime. It's a lot easier than dismantling a social order — or admitting that a rapist could look a lot like you.
Take Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old girl who died by suicide after photos of her sexual assault went viral. (Her story is chronicled in the Netflix documentary Audrie & Daisy.) Prior to her death, Pott was the target of online bullying — people were more likely to stand by her accuser than the young woman whose sexual assault was documented. I wish I had an easy answer for why, but perhaps the truth is, sometimes it's easier to defend our status quo than to believe the worst could happen in our own backyard.
There are people accused of rape currently playing in the NFL. There are actors who have enjoyed enormous success despite being accused of sexual assault multiple times. Some men accused of assault go on to become the President of the United States. We celebrate and defend famous men, despite knowing full well the things that they are accused of. When the person accused of something terrible is a friend, why should we expect anyone to react differently?
13 Reasons Why is realistic in that people will sometimes inexplicably defend a rapist from harm rather than protect a survivor. I just wish it wasn't.