Warning: This article deals with the topic of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that there is help.
A blonde-haired, preppy, good-girl and a green-haired, weed-dealing, tech wiz walk onto a college campus. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But, if you’ve watched an episode of MTV’s Sweet/Vicious, you know that the unlikely duo of Jules and Ophelia make up a vigilante team that you wouldn’t want to mess with.
Set on the fictional campus of Darlington University, Sweet/Vicious isn’t your typical story about a bunch of college kids partying and dating while attempting to maintain good grades and not skip class. In fact, we haven’t even seen the inside of a classroom. Instead, the show focuses on something that is all too real and common, but something that most people don’t want to talk about: campus sexual assault and an administration unwilling or unable to offer help and protection to survivors, something that isn’t just a fictional problem, but rather a problem that is very real on college campuses across the country.
We could sit here and praise the show for the intense action scenes and the very humorous dynamic of Jules and Ophelia, and, while those are all central to the show, Sweet/Vicious is rooted in a much more sobering story line. The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network reports that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and, of those survivors, only 1 in 6 female survivors received assistance from victim services agencies and 20 percent reported the sexual assault to police; the reasons for those who didn’t report it range from believing “police would not or could not help them” to “fear of reprisal.” The main character of Sweet/Vicious is all too familiar with this, and, even when Jules goes to report what has happened, she is discouraged from doing so. Her way to cope with the trauma and the lack of assistance she and other survivors receive is to get vengeance -- her own way of serving justice.
“So often rape is portrayed as a singular moment in time, but rape and sexual assault do not end after the act is over. Rape and sexual assault live with the survivor every single day, every single minute, from the time that it happens. This rape, this scene, this is the origin story of our ‘hero,’” creator and show-runner Jennifer Kaytin Robinson wrote in a post for MTV after the episode “Heartbreaker” aired. “I put 'hero' in quotes not because I don’t believe Jules is a superhero, but because no person should have to step into that position because she or he was assaulted. She wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or turned into a science project during World War II like the superheroes we love from the pages of a Marvel comic. Jules was sleeping in a bed, and someone she knew and trusted changed her life. Forever. The world of Jules and Ophelia is very much fiction -- but the origin story, the ‘inciting incident’ (which feels like a crude thing to call it when you’re talking about rape), is not.”
What makes Sweet/Vicious standout from other shows that have dealt with sexual assault is that it attaches a face to the story and makes a survivor’s story the heart of the series. It makes you feel it. It takes the myth out of it and delivers it cold and raw and heart-breakingly honest. Jules’ story doesn’t end after her assault. She doesn’t magically heal and her life doesn’t magically go back to normal. That’s the thing about the story Jennifer Kaytin Robinson is choosing to tell -- it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And with a story this important to tell, a story that so many other shows have avoided telling and one that society still holds so many misconceptions about, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t been renewed for a second season yet.
Sweet/Vicious isn’t just taking back the narrative for those sexually assaulted on college campuses. It’s not just telling their stories. It’s telling the stories and giving a voice to every survivor of sexual assault, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion. And while there probably aren’t any Jules and Ophelias running around serving up the justice that is deserved, the show is letting survivors know that their stories are heard, that they are real, and that they matter.
The truth is, it shouldn’t matter what we’re wearing. It shouldn’t matter if we’ve had a few too many drinks and are far past the point of being tipsy. It shouldn’t matter if we looked at you in a way that you may have thought suggested something more than it actually did. It shouldn’t matter if we’re walking alone at night. Nobody has a right to our bodies but us and those we choose to share it with. Nobody has a right to take that choice from you. Nobody has a right to silence you.
If we were to give a single reason as to why this show is so important and why it not only is deserving of a second season but needs a second season, we could take a quotation directly from Jules: “There’s stuff happening out there, and no one is doing anything about it," but this show is.