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If You've Experienced Sexual Assault, Freeform's ‘Cruel Summer’ May Feel Like Looking In a Mirror

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I originally turned on Freeform’s new television series “Cruel Summer” to see my favorite former Grey-Sloan doctor, Sarah Drew, in her new role. However, the drama-thriller quickly exceeded all of my expectations and left me coming back for more over the past several weeks.

• What is PTSD?

If you haven’t watched the series yet, it follows the lives of two teenage girls, Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) and Janette Turner (Chiara Aurelia), over the course of three unforgettable summers. The series features a lot of common parts of the teenage experience, like power struggles with parents and the ever-changing status of teenage friendships, but the plot all centers around one important detail– Kate Wallis’ kidnapping and rescue.

Because of this main plotline, “Cruel Summer” not only makes itself as the perfect show for true crime fans, but it also provides an outlet to portray post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the effects of trauma in a very real, relatable way.

From the very first episode, we see Kate transform from a popular, happy-go-lucky teenage girl to a dark shadow of a woman who doesn’t feel comfortable in her own skin and carries around incredible amounts of pain and anger. It’s clear that the kidnapping impacted Kate in ways no one can even imagine, and she appears raw and exposed. There’s just so much depth to her character — depth that only someone else who has endured extreme trauma can understand.

While I initially assumed I would connect more with the nerdy outcast Janette, it was this depth and accuracy of Kate’s evolution that let me see so many parallels between her story and my own.

Although I was never kidnapped, I did endure an abusive relationship for over two years in my teens. Over time, this relationship completely changed me. Like Kate Wallis, the abuse I experienced completely broke me and snuffed out any light I once had. I felt angry, sad, afraid and alone. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a way to cope with the pain and emptiness I felt inside.

As I continued to watch the episodes of “Cruel Summer” over the past several weeks, I saw so many other parallels between Kate’s life after the kidnapping and my own. Like Kate, I struggled with trust and relationships for years even after the abuse ended. I dealt with nightmares, flashbacks, and unexplainable triggers tied to deeply rooted memories of all that I endured. I saw myself as helpless damaged goods because I internalized the emotional abuse I received.

With every scene of Kate’s life with PTSD, I continue to see myself on the screen, and it’s both terrifying and comforting all at once. Even Kate’s therapy sessions mimic my current experiences with trauma treatment, especially the recordings of her sessions that Kate replays for exposure purposes and to help her reclaim power over her memories.

However, I think the best part of the way “Cruel Summer” handles such a serious condition like PTSD is the fact that they don’t glamorize the condition or make light of it. Everything from Kate’s emotions to her very emotional flashback during the most-recent Episode seven are done tastefully and (at least in my experience) accurately.

While I’ve related to characters, like Jo Wilson from “Grey’s Anatomy,” who lived through trauma, I have never seen a show that tackles adolescent PTSD in this way. After spending nearly 20 years feeling constantly alone and fearful of exposing my abuser, “Cruel Summer” has helped me finally feel validated and seen in a way that I can’t even describe.

I just hope that other survivors of childhood and adolescent abuse or sexual assault can find a similar comfort from this show, because it’s helped me immensely.

Freeform’s “Cruel Summer” airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT and is also available the next day on Hulu.

Lead image courtesy of Freeform’s YouTube channel

Originally published: May 28, 2021
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