Home and Away has recently started airing an extremely sensitive storyline revolving around intimate partner violence and abuse.
Newcomer actress Juliet Godwin plays Bree Cameron, a character who is trapped in an abusive marriage with Jacob Cameron.
The soap has never shied away from tough subjects, and the producers tell us it’s important to ‘shine a light on societal issues’.
Yahoo Lifestyle spoke to series script executive Louise Bowes about how the writers approached the delicate subject, what they chose to omit, and what Seven hopes to achieve.
Louise tells us that it’s ‘important’ that the fictional town of Summer Bay sparks conversation about real topics.
“It’s vitally important that we not only entertain our audience but when appropriate, tell stories that shine a light on societal issues,” she begins. “Mental health, addiction [and] technology-facilitated abuse just to name a few.
“We are in a unique position of reaching over a million audience members every night — and that’s just in Australia — so it’s our hope that we can start conversations in those living rooms.”
Sadly, the rate of intimate partner violence suffered by Australian women is high. In 2016, the Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that one in four Australian women have experienced intimate partner violence since age 15.
The script executive says that intimate partner violence and abuse is an ‘unfortunate reality’ in our society.
“For us, it’s all about using our characters to let those women know they’re not alone, and that help is available,” she says.
‘It was a pretty harrowing process’
The first action her writing team took when starting to approach the sensitive subject was research.
Not only did they do a ‘deep dive’ into the psychology of victims and perpetrators, but they also looked at how cases were handled by police, what support friends can offer, and what resources were available for victims.
“We [wanted to] not only provide a broader exploration of the subject, but perhaps offer some answers as to where help can be found,” she explains.
The team first looked into online resources, including 1800RESPECT, NSW Police, Government and health websites to give the writers a solid foundation before delving into first-hand accounts.
Louise says that talking to survivors of domestic abuse was off the table, because the team didn’t want to ‘trigger anyone with personal questions about their terrible experience’. Instead, they relied heavily on podcasts and documentaries.
“[Podcasts and documentaries] gave us access to the voices of victims. Have to say, it was a pretty harrowing process…some of the stories were truly horrifying.”
‘Walked a fine line’
Home and Away has a PG classification, which Louise says ‘dictates certain parameters on the show’.
On-screen, Bree has been shown being threatened by Jacob, before cutting to a shot of the aftermath — such as a cut lip or other injuries.
“We talked with directors and actors about how to walk the fine line between being authentic and informative, and being graphic for the sake of it,” Louise tells us.
The writing room didn’t want to ‘sensationalise’ the topic or ‘glorify the perpetrator’.
“We wanted to avoid overt on-screen violence. And given that most domestic violence happens behind closed doors and without witnesses, it was also a truthful representation of the subject matter.”
As domestic violence occurs so often in the community, Seven has been proactive in trying to support cast members, crew and viewers.
During each episode that depicts the sensitive topic, the network provides ‘on-screen resource information’.
“It’s important that the audience isn’t just presented with the story, but also provided with avenues for not only further information but help should they need it,” Louise explains.
For cast and crew, the producers have made sure that an ‘EAP’ or ‘Employer Assistance Program’ is available for further support.
If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call 1800 RESPECT any time of day or night.
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