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The Quiet Brilliance Behind Aimee's 'Sex Education' Assault Storyline

The hotly anticipated fourth and final season of Sex Education was released on Netflix last week. Fans have been patiently awaiting answers for two years. Would Moordale Secondary rise from the ashes following its Season 3 bankruptcy? How would Jean (Gillian Anderson) tackle life as a single mother? And would we finally see Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) live happily ever after?

As ever, this season continues to teach us more about sexual assault and consent than the UK education system. Importantly, Sex Education continues the conversation around Aimee Gibbs’ (Aimee Lou Wood) sexual assault in Season 4, aptly reflecting the way that being subjected to traumatic experiences continue to impact individuals’ lives.

Fan-favourite Aimee’s story started back in Season 2 when she was sexually assaulted on her way to school. A man on her bus uses her friendly smile as an invitation to masturbate on her, covering her blue jeans with semen stains. While shaken up, Aimee downplays the situation to her best friend Maeve, making excuses for the man that he is ‘probably just lonely.’ Aimee’s dismissive tone reflects the way that women can often believe that unless it’s rape, it is not sexual violence or abuse. Sex Education’s Executive producer, Jaime Campbell, perfectly summed this up when talking to Glamour magazine, stating “unless its rape, [many of us] feel like we can’t talk about it or that we have to take in our stride and even laugh about it.” The show suitably showcases this misconception through its characterisation of Aimee as laughable and good-humoured.

Aimee describes the perpetrator as having such a “kind face”, worrying that ‘If he could do something like that, then anyone could.” Her description aptly conveys the common belief that unless an individual looks like a ‘rapist’ or a ‘sexual predator’ he is not a threat. While TV shows and films often stereotype ‘rapists’ as scary and intimidating figures, the reality is that there is nothing to ‘look out for’, removing the blame from women and placing it firmly onto the perpetrator. Figures from the charity Rape Crisis uncover that6 out of 7 rapes that women are subjected to are carried out by someone they know and trust, illustrating just how flawed tropes about rapists are. Sex Education follows shows such as ITV’s Downton Abbey and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why in showcasing the reality of the relationship between individuals and their abusers, as sexual abuse can occur between friends, loved ones, and strangers.

By continuing this dialogue in Season 4, the show presents an important message that it often takes women weeks, months, or years to process their sexual assault and develop the necessary coping mechanisms to continue their lives. This is commendably explored in Season 3 when Aimee visits sex therapist Dr. Jean Milburn in search of help. Jean comforts Aimee in this emotional and intimate scene, reassuring her that “You may never be the old you, Aimee, but that’s okay.” While there is no band-aid solution for those dealing with sexual trauma, individuals often turn to friends and family, or seek out professional help in the form of counselling.

However, it is art that Aimee turns to in Season 4 as a medium to express herself. With the encouragement of her new friend Isaac, Aimee begins to use artistic expression as a form of self-empowerment. In a striking and thought-provoking scene from the season’s finale, Aimee takes self-portraits of herself in the jeans, confronting her trauma head-on. In an emblematic final scene, viewers watch the jeans go up in flames, symbolising Aimee saying goodbye to her old life. For Aimee, it is art that gives her the strength and confidence to explore her past, illustrating the personal and manifold ways that individuals process sexual violence and abuse. As the denim turns to ashes, viewers witness a weight being lifted from Aimee’s shoulders as she finally gains a sense of closure.

Many have taken to social media to discuss the shows portrayal of Aimee’s ongoing journey with sexual trauma. Statistics from Rape Crisis find that 1 in 4 women in the UK have been subjected to sexual assault, making Aimee’s storyline so poignant and unfortunately relatable for viewers. One took to Instagram to declare that she ‘always felt a special connection to Aimee for what we both went through…I love her, she gives me hope that one day I’ll heal too.’ Comments like these show the importance of accurate representations of sexual assault in the media as viewers relate to and find comfort in Aimee’s story. This demand is especially crucial in the aftermath of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s up, as more TV shows and films desperately need to reflect the reality of women’s daily experiences that they are subjected to.

- A. Chacksfield


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