Sex Education season 2: why those bus scenes are so important

Posted by for Life

Aimee’s storyline in Sex Education season two not only explores the reality of sexual assault, it also highlights how pervasive the problem really is.

Anyone who has watched Sex Education will know that the show is full of funny moments. The comedy drama portrays a school of young adults coming to terms with their sexuality – and all the weird and wonderful moments of self-discovery that comes with that.

But among those lighter moments, the show also shines a light on some incredibly important and relevant subjects, including sexual assault.

The moment we’re talking about is, of course, the scene where Aimee gets sexually assaulted on the bus she takes to school. Despite trying to brush it off and pretend the incident was no big deal, it’s clear that the assault has a long-lasting effect on Aimee, who finds it hard to get back on the bus for most of the season. It’s only when the rest of the girls in her peer group share their stories of sexual assault – in response to an emotional outburst from Aimee herself – and decide to accompany her onto the bus, that she finds herself able to make that step.

As anyone who has watched Aimee’s storyline will tell you, the moment where she steps back on the bus, accompanied by her friends, is one of the most moving scenes in the whole season. Besides the fact that it’s a beautiful portrayal of a moment which demonstrates the power of female friendship, it also shines a light on an experience which is all too familiar for many women.

Speaking in a video for Netflix UK & Ireland’s official YouTube channel, the actor who plays Aimee in the show, Aimee Lou Wood, nailed exactly why the storyline is so important – especially in light of the fact that, after the man sexually assaults Aimee – and she speaks out to notify the bus – no one does anything to help her. 

“I think what’s moving in Aimee’s storyline is of course the event itself is so traumatising, but what traumatises her even more is that she has such faith in the world, and she has such faith in people, so when she’s looking around after it’s happened she really does expect someone to go ‘I’ll help you’ – and nobody does,” Wood says. 

“Everyone’s blank. And that’s the thing where she’s like, ‘I used to feel so safe, now I don’t. This man smiled at me, he had a kind face, he didn’t look like he was capable of that – how do I navigate in the world now, now that I know that I’m not safe? And now that I know when I smile at someone it might invite that kind of behaviour’.”

In the video, which also features the show’s creator and writer Laurie Nunn, in conversation with actor Patricia Allison (who plays Ola) and Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates, the women discuss their experiences of sexual harassment and assault – with Nunn revealing that Aimee’s storyline is based on an experience she herself had as a young woman, when a man sat next to her on a bus and began rubbing himself against her and touching himself.

“I think everyone knows this feeling but I just went into sort of fight or flight,” Nunn says. “I just suddenly was like I have to get out of this situation, I think this person means me harm – I need to go. So I grabbed my stuff and I got off the bus, and it was so creepy – he moved seats so that he could see me out the window as the bus went off, and I just burst into tears.”

Throughout the video the other women also share their experiences of ‘everyday’ sexual harassment and assault, from being groped on a bus to being followed on a train station platform.

“It’s just so sad because I feel like every woman has a story,” Wood adds, referencing the stories the four women have shared. “That’s why I love this storyline so much – because it brings out the other female character’s stories.”

Aimee, Maeve and friends in Sex Education season two
Sex Education season two: Aimee gets back on the bus with the support of her peers.

Unfortunately, Wood is correct in assuming that most women do have a story like the one portrayed in Sex Education. Last year, a report by the Women And Equalities Committee concluded that the volume of harassment faced by women in public spaces is “relentless”, with 64% of women saying they have faced sexual harassment in a public place (rising to 85% of 18-25 year olds).

And while more women now feel empowered to speak up and report their experiences – as Maeve correctly encourages Aimee to do in the show – it’s clear that the issue of sexual assault and harassment on public transport is a problem of an unprecedented scale.

So, is there anything we can do to start changing that? Of course, the onus should never be on the victim to report and stop these crimes – it’s the responsibility of the perpetrator not to commit them. But is there anything we can do if we see an assault taking place?

The main thing we can all do is fight the assumption that assault on public transport is ever OK – and that starts with showing support and being there for any women we see being harassed, unlike the bus passengers who choose to stay quiet in Aimee’s situation. 

As Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, author of The Right Amount Of Panic: How Women Trade Freedom For Safety, previously told Stylist: “Research has shown that it’s best to engage with the woman being harassed, as engaging with the man can escalate things. Ask her about the book she’s reading, what she did that day. That way, you can gauge how she’s feeling and also let the man know there’s someone watching.”

Of course, another way to fight the assumption that assault is OK is to make sure assaults get reported, no matter how ‘small’ a crime you may assume it to be. Although in Aimee’s situation she is keen to brush the whole incident under the rug – and spends most of her time lamenting the stain on her jeans – Maeve’s encouraging and supportive hand helps her to report the situation to the police.

At the end of the day, while there’s no quick fix for a problem this widespread, there’s something to be said for the power of portraying such a common female experience on a platform as big as Netflix. It is only by depicting these situations – and refusing to shy away from the harm they can cause – that we can raise awareness of how big a problem sexual assault and harassment really is. And that’s what makes Aimee’s storyline so vitally important. 

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Images: Netflix/Screenshot

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