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Essential conversations for every parent about the rape in 13 Reasons Why

It's no secret that 13 Reasons Why is an opportunity for every parent to have a conversation with their teen. 

But what may be a secret, is what's troubling teens when they watch it. All their friends are talking about it at school, but carers may be in the dark. Ideally, parents would watch the series with their kids. But in the world of balancing commitments, we all understand how this may not happen. So for those parents who didn't watch the series with their teen (if their teen is watching it), or even those who did - the following provides insight into how the rape scene may impact viewers, and 13 reasons why viewing it is just the beginning. Many conversations can result from this scene and we would like to offer a few to start.

One of our Mature 15+ supporters, a young guy, provides this chilling account of the rape in the last episode. The following description is graphic and we issue a trigger warning, but PARENTS MUST READ.

Netflix is loved by everyone and especially myself - your casual getaway experience to be submerged into a new world. It’s personal time to enjoy an action movie or a nice rom-com, rugging up with a warm drink and blanket (preferably with it raining outside). Finding new shows is such a great feeling, as was my latest expectation for watching ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, promoted as a recommended television series.

The series seemed to be teenager friendly. Being MA 15+, I am at the legal age to watch it (and most videos that are MA 15+ tend to not be as graphic as a horror). Anyway, the first series did not particularly impact me as the content seemed to create awareness on topics such as rape, bullying (physical and cyber) and suicide (even though they showed particularly graphic scenes of someone committing suicide). However, the newly released season of Thirteen Reasons Why shows a scene that involves explicit footage of a boy being bashed by multiple male characters in which he was sexually assaulted in unimaginable circumstances. The last episode in Season 2 contained a rape/sexual assault/ grievous bodily harm and assault scene. Four male students hit the victim in the toilet, shoved his head in the toilet water, then pinned him down holding his mouth so he couldn't scream. One of the guys gets a mop...and you can draw an inference from what happens next. You don't see anything. But you see him crying in pain and the guy pulling the mop out with blood on it.

I consider myself mentally stable, however this scene was uncalled for. It held no benefit or intention to create awareness on any ‘life-learning’ experience matters. I myself was crying for 30 minutes after watching this scene, in which the horror repeated over and over in my head for two days straight. The explicitness and reality of the footage shown was damaging, and I had to receive counselling to cope with what I saw. I wouldn’t consider myself a softy; however, this graphic scene was not MA 15+. Even with the warnings describing that the episode contained rape and violence, this scene was more fit for a horror movie.

If I could go back in time and not watch the series, I wouldn’t have started. There is something seriously messed up with our classifications law to allow this series to be rated as MA 15+.

Firstly, thanks to our young supporter for sharing this with us. It was tough for him to write, but he wanted to get the word out. Parents, here's 13 conversations that you can have with your teens about this scene.

  1. There is zero doubt that this scene was rape. This was a complete violation of a person's right to bodily boundaries. The effects of trauma can remain with the victim forever. Rape occurs whenever a person's bodily boundaries are violated, including when the scenario is not as obvious as this scene. There is NEVER EVER a justifiable reason to rape someone, for any reason.  
  2. Rape is a serious crime for good reason. It can have a lasting effect on victims, regardless of gender. If you or someone you know has experienced violence or abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat. Bravehearts is also an invaluable resource for victims who are minors and their families. If your child or someone you know has disclosed, please contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831. They will be able to provide you with support and advice about how to proceed to protect and support your loved one.
  3. Child Sexual Abuse (sexual abuse prior to the age of 18) is estimated to be around 8% for boys. This compares to 18%-20% for girls. (Pereda et al., 2009; Stoltenborgh et al., 2011). Rates of sexual violence are consistently higher for young women and offenders are almost always male however, it is equally important to provide opportunity to talk about it with all genders. The video below can be used as an excellent discussion tool.
  4. According to a report by Dr. Wendy O'Brien for the Australian Crime Commission, “accurate numbers on children with sexualised or sexual offending behaviours are difficult to determine. Recent Australian research cites international data to estimate that sexual abuse by children or young people constitutes between 40 and 90 per cent of sexual offending against children. Have you given your teen the tools they need to recognise peer-to-peer abuse, and let them know that they can come to you to talk about ANYTHING?
  5. How did the scene impact your teen? Were they troubled by it? If so, have a discussion with them about what you have done when something has troubled you. What did you do to break the 'replay' in your mind? Did you seek support? Did you refocus on something else? Assure your teen that it's only natural that they would be troubled, and this shows their depth of compassion for others. Offer to help them seek counselling support.
  6. Ask your teen if they think the warning for this episode was sufficient? If not, what do they think the warning should have said?
  7. Ask your teen if they think MA 15+ was the right rating. Should it have been rated R18+? Why? Why not? What do they think should change? Even though Netflix is international, they still follow Australia's ratings system. If they want to see tighter restrictions to scenes like this, are they willing to write a letter to The Australian Classifications Office?
  8. There's always opportunity for an upstander. There were 4 guys in this situation - at least one or more was likely to seriously question what they were doing - ask your teen what they think one of these guys could have done to change the outcome.
  9. Some teens may not be (or appear to be) troubled by this rape scene. Some may laugh at it. Investigate further, and find out if there's a way to help them connect empathetically with the victim. It turns out one of the developmental aspects of teens is that sometimes they can be less sensitive to things that adults may find shocking. Help them work through this so they can develop into whole-hearted adults who would never dream of being a part of, or standing by and watching something like this.
  10. Pornography normalises rape. Content that kids have access to is demeaning and degrading in every sense of the word. Mainstream hardcore porn regularly depicts choking, slapping, derogatory name-calling, incest, bondage, group and rough sex. Regular viewing is linked to sexually abusive behaviours and teaches young men to have an attitude of sexual entitlement; young women struggle to recognise their own abuse. eChildhood Chair, Liz Walker, says “Kids having easy access to pornography is like steroids for the #MeToo women of tomorrow. We can’t ignore the role it plays in normalising bullying, sexual abuse and harassment.” It's vitally important to help our kids through this toxic hypersexualised online environment, so the more conversations the better. We can also report this content to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. As in the case with our young supporter, sometimes we see things that can be troubling - that may be a scene out of 13 Reasons Why, pornography online, a horror movie, or a YouTube clip. Let them know that there's nothing to be ashamed about in asking for help. There are places to seek support including Headspace and Kids Helpline.  Be sure to reach out and help your teen find the right counsel if they need assistance to deal with anything they've seen online.
  11. If you are struggling to know what to say to your teen about pornography or need guidance for conversations, you are not alone. Learn where to find support on our Resources for Parents of Teens page.
  12. Sexual abuse happens online too. According to a 2016 joint survey by Plan International Australia and Our Watch, seven out of ten Australian girls aged 15-19 believe online harassment and bullying is endemic. If your teen is being sexually harassed online, they can seek support at the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, including if someone has shared a sexual image of them online. If you or your teen believe someone is being bullied, sexually harassed, harmed online, or being pressured to send sexual images, Stymie is a great site for upstanders (empowering bystanders to speak up).
  13. Increasingly in the media we hear of stories where these sorts of scenes are recorded and uploaded online. ‘Revenge porn’, otherwise known as ‘Image Based Abuse’, is another violation of bodily boundaries and can have massive impacts on the victim. Have a conversation with your teen about why it is never okay to record a sexual incident, much less a rape. If they ever receive such a recording, it must be reported to the police as they are witnessing a crime. It is not unusual for teens not to recognise this as a crime, given how normalised rape scenes are in pornography. Reports of Image Based Abuse can be made to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

Parents, don't let this opportunity pass you by. This rape scene is just the beginning. The last thing we need is for our kids to stay silent when they are emotionally troubled by something, or have this rape scene reinforce ideas they've already seen normalised in pornography. If they haven't seen the 13 Reasons Why series yet, have a discussion with them anyway. Many of their peers will be talking about it and together, as a family, you have an opportunity to create more open communication about something that impacts way too many people.


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