What the Netflix series “You” says about sexual assault | COMMENTARY

Actor Penn Badgley, who was born in Baltimore, stars in the Netflix series You.
Actor Penn Badgley, who was born in Baltimore, stars in the Netflix series You.(Cindy Ord/Getty)

The popular Netflix series “You” neutralizes sexual assault and domestic violence for everyone who watches it.

There are lessons to be learned from the show.


Season 1 depicted the idea of stalking and dating violence as romantic as viewers caught themselves in a love/hate relationship with lead character Joe Goldberg (played by Baltimore native Penn Badgley).

And if you thought season 2 would be any different, you’re wrong. It opens as Mr. Goldberg is moving to Los Angeles in hopes for a better life — or as we find out later, another victim. He falls back into the old stalking tendencies we were introduced to in Season 1. This time he fixates on a girl he meets at work named Love (played by Victoria Pedretti). He obsesses over her social media and moves to an apartment across the street from where she lives and watches her daily. While less obvious than in the first season, he continues to showcase behaviors of stalking, dating violence and abusive behavior.

His behavior is not normal and represents classic signs of psychological manipulation and abusive tendencies. However, this is not what Mr. Goldberg wants you to believe. There are many things he does want you to believe.

Mr. Goldberg wants you to believe he’s changed. From the very first line he speaks, he is trying to convince you that he has changed. This continues throughout the second season. Except that he is not a changed man. This is a red flag in real life. In situations when individuals are involved with a violent partner, they will try to convince their significant other that they have changed. They’ll use phrases such as “you made me,” “I promise I love you,” “it was a one-time thing,” and even “I won’t hurt you again.” Abusers want you to believe that this time it will be different. But the fact remains that violent tendencies are present within and will always come back to hurt their victims.

Mr. Goldberg also wants you to think of Candace Stone, a character from season 1, as the “crazy obsessive” ex-girlfriend. When we meet Ms. Stone, it is the end of season 1, and we can put together that she was one of Mr. Goldberg’s victims who survived his abuse. After being buried alive, she returns to expose her abusive boyfriend in season 2. However, Mr. Goldberg convinces everyone that Ms. Stone is the “crazy” girlfriend who was “obsessed” with him during their relationship. In real life, all too often, victims are made to believe that their situation is because of something they’ve done. Abusers convince those around them that the victim is the one in the wrong by stereotyping their partner as “crazy” or “obsessed” to remove blame from themselves.

Mr. Goldberg wants you to hear his perspective only. Did you notice how other characters never have a voice? You’re living inside of Mr. Goldberg’s head and he’s telling YOU what to feel and believe. This is a huge warning sign in real-life relationships as well. If your partner is constantly telling you what you believe and how you feel, you need to seek help immediately. An abuser will manipulate you into believing that you aren’t hurt, that they didn’t mean to hurt you or that you deserve this kind of violence. This is gaslighting that is used to make those harmed by domestic violence question their sanity or perception of the situation at hand. It is important to know you have a voice and that you do not need to be treated this way.

Mr. Goldberg wants you to see the justification in his wrongdoings. In almost every episode, he tries to convince you that he is doing these things to protect the ones he loves and what is “best” for them. This is a classic sign of domestic violence and stalking. Abusers justify to themselves that they are only hurting you because you deserve it or because they care about you. This behavior is incredibly WRONG. You should never feel as if someone putting their hands on you in a violent manner is what is best for you. And if your partner tries to convince you that it is, he or she clearly doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

While the Netflix series “You” is based on fictional events, the parts in which Mr. Goldberg’s character align with those of an actual abuser should not be overlooked. This is happening in our world every day and knowing the signs of domestic violence, gaslighting and abuse just might save your own or a loved one’s life.


If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence or any of the above situations, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination and Domestic Violence Program at Greater Baltimore Medical Center is available 24 hours a day. You are not alone.

Bri Rogers (brogers@gbmc.org) is a staff lead to Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s Walk a Mile Committee, supporting GBMC’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination and Domestic Violence Program.