TW: Sexual Assault.
A Promising Young Woman follows the story of Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old who lives with her parents. She had been attending medical school until she and her best friend, Nina, drop out after Nina was sexually assaulted by one of their classmates. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that the incident caused Nina to take her own life. The school and legal system failing her friend which sets Cassie on a journey of revenge: Cassie later begins going to nightclubs, pretending to be inebriated in order to get a guy to bring her home. She waits for them to continue to take advantage of her before exposing her sobriety.
After running into a former classmate, Ryan Cooper, at the coffee shop where she works, Cassie discovers that Nina’s rapist is getting married. Triggered by the news, she begins to plot her vengeance against those she claims are accountable for the assault and ultimate death of Nina. She targets each person she believes played a role in her friend’s death, whether it be one of Nina’s own friends turning a blind eye or an authoritative figure dismissing the assault. Cassie continues to seek revenge but along the way, finds herself forgiving one person in particular because of the sincerity in their guilt-ridden apology for the events that followed after Nina came forward.
One day, Cassie is given an old cellphone that contains proof of Nina’s rape. Although fully aware of who assaulted her friend, Cassie discovers that someone close to her was one of the many people present that day. After seeing the video, Cassie sets out for one last stop and possibly the most important one in the entire film. Though Cassie was not able to save her best friend and the storyline itself can be triggering for those who have experienced something similar, the film sheds light on the importance of standing by someone who has been sexually assaulted instead of trying to bury what they went through.
“Allegations of sexual assault are often met with scrutiny when victims come forward with their traumatic experiences,” Sophia Voight, an opinion editor for The Advance-Titan writes, “women who have been sexually assaulted often withhold reporting their attacks for fear of being blamed, ignored, or the assailant receiving no repercussions. When women do speak out about sexual assault, they are frequently subjected to more trauma and distress as people tend to scrutinize their experiences.”
The people who remain silent need to be held account and responsible, too. An obvious example of this is the #MeToo movement that created widespread media coverage and discussion regarding sexual assault and harassment, especially in Hollywood. The culture of abuse continues because of the one who chooses to assault, but also those who choose to be bystanders.
While both sides should be considered when it comes to accusations of sexual harassment and violence, waiting to speak out should not be seen as a criterion for dismissing a victim’s claim. Women should feel secure disclosing rape and sexual harassment claims at any time. A Promising Young Woman definitely upholds the promise of righting every wrong, even if it means exposing secrets one thought would stay buried.