The moment Jane Chapman pulled away from a first date kiss on Season 2 of Big Little Lies, I was transported back 20 years to a similar period of time in my own life. I can still feel the cold basement floor beneath my skin, and the way my perpetrator spoke in a whisper, reminding me not to talk of what transpired in that "brief" 10-minute encounter. There would be no police report or mention of the incident, and I'd be emotionally closed off for many years and multiple relationships to come. Jane on Big Little Lies is painfully relatable for this reason, serving as a reminder that sexual assault changed the way I'd view relationships, trust, love, and sex, forevermore.
According to RAINN, someone in the U.S. endures sexual assault, rape, or sexual violence every 92 seconds. That equates to over 570 people (men and women) a day — and these are only the reported numbers. At least one of three people will become part of this alarming statistic. What's even more atrocious is that eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows — usually without consequence. This is because of every 1,000 rapes, 995 won't serve jail time due to victims not reporting the incident, and those that do never see any form of justice. It's a frightening thought, and one that Big Little Lies covers with an authenticity almost too triggering to sit through. Jane didn't know Perry at the time of her assault, but, as RAINN reports, "94 percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape," and it's evident in the way Jane carries herself in every relationship she has. I see it because it's something I, too, suffer from.
Season 1 of the hit HBO series (based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty), ended with the death of Celeste Wright's (Nicole Kidman) abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). Moments before he died, it had just been discovered that Perry was the man who raped Jane (Shailene Woodley), impregnating her son, with Ziggy.
In a montage of muted words as Perry continues abusing Celeste just out of sight during Trivia Night, Jane's frozen, fiery rage is almost confined; she's trapped inside of herself staring her perpetrator in the eye. Everything comes crashing down as Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), cuts in and shoves Perry down the concrete stairs to his death. Those final moments are intense and all-consuming, but I, and many sexual assault survivors, felt a sigh of relief when all was said and done. However, even with the abuser gone, it doesn't take away from what's already been done. This was no clearer than interactions between Jane and her new potential love interest, Corey.
As her aquarium co-worker, Jane and Corey share work space, forcing interactions on a regular basis, but it's the awkward first date that sets the tone for Jane's trauma and potential healing — and it resonated with me. After dinner, Corey went in for a kiss but Jane refused it. It reminded me of all the times I did the same, wanting so desperately to connect but having the trauma of the assault so front and center every second of every minute of every day. It's something only those who've been through it understand. I reckon it with the way the heart simultaneously craves emotional intimacy, but cringes and shuts down, at the same time. It still happens every now and then, to be honest.
As Corey asked if he could hug Jane instead, the two began to slow dance in the driveway. This also reminded me how complex trauma can be. Those walls don't automatically fall down with one romantic interaction, or even several. It may take months or years to allow yourself to be open in another relationship, or it may never happen. There's always part of a little too scarred to allow vulnerability into your safe space. My wounds won't be erased just because I've found love, and I suspect Jane might feel the same.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Douglas Smith (who plays Corey), said of the unspoken trauma Jane's navigating through this new relationship saying, "I believe it’s an important part of the healing process to try and explore a romantic relationship with somebody after you’ve been a victim of assault and to not let that keep you from enjoying those things and that aspect of your life." If the exploration came that easily, many like me wouldn't derail so many potential relationships — and friendships — to keep ourselves in the "safe" zone, void of emotional attachment so not to get hurt in such a traumatic, violent way ever again.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Woodley said Jane is taking control of her life back (hence the new bangs this season). "I thought it was really important to show a young woman who had survived rape and who had survived so many atrocities in her life — like being a young mother without very much support from anyone else around her — and yet forging through with a bravery and a courage that has helped give her son a beautiful life."
I want to overcome like Jane, but with sexual violence an omnipresent threat, I don't always have the strength . For that reason, I'm glad shows like Big Little Lies are having the difficult, nuanced conversations about the aftermath of sexual assault for those of us digging through the trenches of lingering pain. I can't say what will become of Jane and Corey's burgeoning romance; if it'll find a space between Jane and the pain of her trauma, or if it'll crash and burn to keep her from getting too close, being too vulnerable, and too available to be taken advantage of again.
As for me, I'll continue watching the way Jane handles herself with Corey. I'll remain curled up in the nurturing threads of my couch, with my heart beating out of my chest, drawing in and out the same breaths that were taken away over 20 years ago. That's the thing about sexual assault: it stays with you long after the event has passed. It becomes its own powerful entity that separates you from every possible good thing life has to offer. It's my hope, Jane will find a way to slay her monster. And that I will someday learn to slay mine.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.