The powerful story behind Aimee's 'Sex Education' assault storyline

Image: netflix By Rachel Thompson2020-01-31 12:41:18 UTC Content warning: this article contains explicit discussion of sexual violence.  Every woman in my life has something in common with Aimee Gibbs from Sex Education. That shared something...

The powerful story behind Aimee's 'Sex Education' assault storyline
Image: netflix

Content warning: this article contains explicit discussion of sexual violence. 

Every woman in my life has something in common with Aimee Gibbs from Sex Education. That shared something is a story of sexual harassment or assault. 

Aimee Gibbs' assault storyline has proved one of the most talked-about moments from the recent series. Not only is Aimee's storyline moving to watch and painfully relatable, it's also based on Sex Education writer Laurie Nunn's personal experience.

In the third episode of the Netflix show's new series, Aimee gets on a bus to go to school. She's carrying a homemade birthday cake she's made for Maeve's birthday and trying to keep herself in an upright position when she becomes aware of a man standing behind her. We see Aimee's confused face at his proximity before it dawns on her. "He's wanking on me," she yells out. No one on the bus does anything. She gets off the bus and walks instead. When she gets to school, Maeve asks what happened to the cake. "It didn't look so bad before but then I was on the bus and a guy wanked on my leg and I got a big of a shock and I shmushed the cake," Aimee says, before blithely asking: "Do you think it'll stain, I love these jeans?"

When Maeve tells her to report the incident, Aimee bats it away, making a comment about the cheapness of her jeans. "No, you've been assaulted," Maeve says. Aimee responds by saying she thought the perpetrator was "just lonely." Not a big deal. "It's silly. I'm fine. Honestly," she says. 

As the series progresses, though, it becomes clear that Aimee is not fine. When she tries to get on the bus in the weeks that follow, she sees the face of the man who assaulted her. She walks to school instead of taking the bus. She doesn't want her boyfriend to touch her. None of her friends or family really know the full extent of the effect the assault has had on her.

Aimee and Maeve from 'Sex Education'.

Aimee and Maeve from 'Sex Education'.

Image: Netflix

It's difficult not to be moved as you watch Aimee blinking back tears and doing her utmost to carry on regardless. It's a feeling I — and many others — can identify with: trying to tell yourself that you're fine, when you're anything but. Aimee's assault while making her way to school is relatable for another reason. Research by Plan UK in 2018 found that 35 percent of girls in the UK have been groped, stared at, catcalled and wolf-whistled while wearing their school uniform in public.

This powerful storyline is based on something that actually happened to Laurie Nunn, the writer and creator of Sex Education – an incident she spoke about in conversation with Laura Bates (founder of Everyday Sexism) and cast members Aimée Lou Wood (Aimee) and Patricia Allison (Ola). 

"The inspiration for Aimee's storyline in series two came from a personal experience that I had myself," said Nunn in the video. "This thing happened to me about five years ago where I was on my local bus and I was on the way to King's Cross station." It was early in the morning when someone got on the bus and sat next to Nunn, despite the bus being completely empty except for one other woman at the back. "This man got on and he just made a beeline straight for me and came and sat right next to me. Which was just so weird, I was like, you have so many seats you could sit on but you've come and sat right next to me," Nunn said. "I had my bags on the floor and he put his feet on my bags so that I couldn't move and he started inching himself toward me and then he was rubbing himself on me and touching himself."

Nunn got off the bus and burst into tears straight away, she said. "It was really strange 'cause I kind of shook it off and got on with my weekend and it just really stayed in my head and I started having panic attacks where I couldn't get back on my bus, I didn't like getting on the Tube, this lasted for weeks afterwards," she said. What helped Nunn was posting about her experience in a feminist women's Facebook group and hearing other women say "that happened to me," which made her feel heard, gave her solace, and made her feel "a bit braver." 

Talking on a Netflix panel in London this week, Nunn elaborated on her experience and explained another parallel with Aimee's storyline. "The experience that I had, nobody helped me," said Nunn. 

"I think that's something that just needs to be interrogated. We just need to ask, why is that the norm, that people just sit back and don't do anything?"

The female solidarity that helped Nunn after the incident is also mirrored in Aimee's storyline. In episode seven, Aimee is in detention with fellow female classmates Ola, Maeve, Lily, Olivia and Viv when she breaks down and admits she can't get on the bus. That's when something really moving happens: Her fellow classmates stop arguing and rally around Aimee. 

"I always felt safe before and now I don't. It probably sounds stupid," Aimee tells them after explaining what happened. 

"It doesn't sound stupid," Olivia responds. "I was groped at the train station last year." 

Then, one by one, each of them shares a story of harassment or assault. The episode ends with all five girls showing up at the bus stop to accompany Aimee to school in an act of female solidarity. It is, by far, the most emotive and powerful episode of the entire series.

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