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Note: The following article contains discussion of sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting.
Sex Education season three spoilers follow.
It would have been so easy for Sex Education to quickly move on from what happened to Aimee during that bus ride in season two. She herself tried to brush the incident off like it was no big deal, but of course, that's not how sexual assault works. Unable to bury her trauma, Aimee started to avoid getting the bus entirely, and it wasn't until her friends shared their own stories of sexual assault that she was able to start moving on and push past her fears.
"It's just a stupid bus," said Maeve, and she's right. But one touching moment of catharsis can't instantly erase all the pain, no matter how poignant that scene might be. And it's to Sex Education's credit that season three acknowledges this, not just with one throwaway moment, but an ongoing storyline that continues to unpack how Aimee's experience has been shaped by this trauma.
This all comes to a head when Maeve realises that her friend isn't okay still, and so recommends that she visits Jean for some much-needed therapy. Because even though Aimee found comfort in the support of her friends, there's still a part of her that clings to the idea that she is the reason that man assaulted her. If she hadn't smiled at him on the bus, maybe, just maybe, this would have never happened?
But then Jean, sensing all this, says the one thing that Aimee needed to hear more than anything else in the world. "It’s not your fault that you smiled." With these seven words, Aimee is transformed, finding the strength she always had but didn't quite know how to find.
"That, I think, is the biggest moment for Aimee," says Aimee Lou Wood. "She did still, in some way, think that it was her fault. And actually, it took the argument with Maeve to make her go, 'It's because I’m a people-pleaser that all of these bad things have happened in my life. Because I don't like fights, and I avoid everything. That's why I had awful friends, and that's why I smiled at that man.'"
"That’s where the dam bursts," Aimee continues. "Just having Jean really look at her, and say, 'It's not your fault.' I think for the first time, she really hears it. She really actually hears it. And that is such a huge moment for Aimee, because she is an internaliser. Everything that happens to her, she turns inward, and she makes it her fault. And she thinks, 'If I had just been this way, if I had just been different…'"
As Aimee points out, her character has always internalised blame like this. Remember when she assumed things weren't working with Adam because of something specific that she did? "It's always about: 'What am I doing wrong?' So when others reinforced that belief, it made perfect sense to Aimee because that's what she's always thought anyway.
"The bit in the police station, the policeman says, 'So you say you smiled and everything?' Maeve rightly counters this, and goes out of her way to tell Aimee that none of this is her fault, but it's one thing to hear that, and another to actually believe it.
"Aimee's had all these voices around her, talking about what she's been through, and telling her what she’s been through. Everyone's trying to help, but it's not until that moment in therapy... She's fallen out with Maeve, her one best friend. She's been told, 'You should break up with Steve.' She's never been without a boyfriend. Everything that she's afraid of, comes true. And actually, she realises, 'Oh my God, I'm okay. Even though all these really terrifying things have happened, I'm still here, and I'm still okay.'"
That doesn't mean everything is the same as it was before though. To pretend that nothing's really changed would have been a disservice to both Aimee and the real-life victims of sexual assault watching this from back home. But thankfully, Sex Education didn't go down that route. Not only does Jean affirm that Aimee did nothing wrong, she also validates how she feels now.
"I think that’s the first time Aimee's like, 'You're fine. There's nothing wrong with you, and it isn't your fault. It's okay that you're now a different person, and that you've changed. That is okay.' That's such a huge moment for her. It's just really letting it sink in."
"And she had to be in that very vulnerable place to actually hear it," adds Aimee. "For it to actually permeate. I don't think she would have been able to properly absorb that if she wasn't in such an open space from that argument with Maeve."
The Aimee who entered that session with Jean is not the same one who walks out at the end. By choosing to no longer avoid what happened to her, Aimee is finally able to understand that she did nothing wrong, and that's where the true healing can begin. Aimee Lou Wood puts it best when she says, "Aimee just goes into the pain, there, and she comes out with the truth."
Sex Education season 3 is now available to watch on Netflix.
If you've been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information from Rape Crisis England and Wales, who work towards the elimination of all forms of sexual violence and sexual misconduct, on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.
Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.
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