“I was very grateful to be able to explore this story and raise awareness.”
Next week, an upsetting new episode of Home and Away will premiere on UK television when Felicity Newman experiences a sexual assault while out on the town.
At a Battle of the Bands competition, Felicity is cheering on Lyrik when someone spikes her drink, knocking her out.
Following her regaining consciousness and realizing that she has been sexually attacked, Felicity goes to the hospital where she is supported by her best friend Eden Fowler and the neighborhood doctor Bree Cameron.
Jacqui Purvis, who portrays Felicity, recently spoke exclusively with Digital Spy about the plot.
How did you first hear about this storyline?
“The head writer, Lou, brought me into her office and she told me that the show would be putting Flick through a sexual assault storyline. At first, I was shocked and completely scared, but she talked me through everything.
“I was so honoured that they even thought I could do it. I was very grateful to be able to explore this story and raise awareness, because it’s something that needs to be reflected on TV a lot more.
“Thankfully I was told just before our holidays, so I did have two weeks afterwards to prepare. That was so beneficial, because I wouldn’t have been able to do the work without that time.”
How did you prepare?
I did extensive research. I took numerous acting sessions with my acting coach to help me get in the appropriate frame of mind. I was well-prepared when I returned to begin shooting.
It’s horrible and sad, but I have friends who have experienced it, so I got to chat to them and get their advice on how they handled it.
One of my buddies had used the drug GHB, and he was able to describe the entire physical experience to me. One of my pals had experienced sexual assault, and she could explain everything to me.
“So I had some real-life experience that I could use, which was very beneficial.”
How does this ordeal affect Felicity?
“Immediately after the assault, we see someone who’s gone through an incredibly traumatic experience. It’s trauma, it’s grief and that’s something that’s very unique to every person, so there’s not one way to react.
Flick has several emotions, including sexualizing herself. She doesn’t want to come out as “used” and “dirty.” She still wants to be sexual but doesn’t want Tane to think she is those things.
“The author identified a woman who had written an article about responding in that way, and that’s where the concept came from. The woman, who didn’t even understand why she was acting that way, was incredibly terrified and startled.
“They adapted that plot for Flick, and at first, that’s how she acts. Because it’s embarrassing, she wants to pretend that it never happened.
There will be challenging times ahead for Felicity and Tane, but do we ultimately see the strength of their marriage?
“They have a really lovely relationship.” One of the beautiful things about this plot is how it emphasises the value of partners and friendship. Flick would not be able to go through this without the help of people like Eden.
“Obviously, it’s worse for Flick, without a doubt, because she’s the one who’s been assaulted.” Tane and her pals, on the other hand, are struggling to cope because they don’t know how to react.
“I hope that people who have been a partner or a friend through someone else’s trauma can watch it and say, ‘That’s how I felt.'” I didn’t know what to do either’. It was important to demonstrate that it is not just the person who has been assaulted, but also the people around them, and that it is extremely difficult.
“The story does really help us to get another insight into Felicity and Tane’s beautiful relationship, show how strong it is and show that they’re always there for one another.”
Felicity is reluctant to tell her brother Cash, fearing his reaction because he’s always warned her not to leave her drink unattended on nights out. As these scenes show the dangers of victim blaming, how did you feel about Home and Away exploring that?
“It was such an important topic to discuss because it is what happens in real life.” Victim blaming is widespread and continues to be a problem today. That was something I really wanted to emphasise.
“It’s always up to the woman – ‘Oh, what was she wearing?'” She was most likely wearing a trashy dress’. Alternatively, ‘Oh, she was probably inebriated, so she was asking for it’.
“Those are the thoughts racing through Flick’s mind. ‘Well, Cash told me,’ she thinks. He advised me to always keep an eye on my drink’. But it shouldn’t always be necessary to keep an eye on your drink, so why is this happening?
“As a woman, you know that, but you still get bogged down by shame and think, ‘It was me.'” It was all my fault’. You also know that other individuals will be thinking or telling you the same thing.”
How does that affect Flick?
“Flick decides that she can’t deal with other people judging her, so she doesn’t want to tell Cash at first.
“That’s why women often don’t go to the police. Of all the rape cases that are reported to the police, only a small percentage end in an arrest. The odds are so low and Flick knows that. So she thinks: ‘What’s the point? I’m not going to go through that’.
“I wanted to make it clear that it should never be about what a woman’s wearing or what she drank. Also, it shouldn’t be up to a woman to take self-defence classes. Why should a woman have to go and take a self-defence class? That’s just ridiculous.
“It’s educating people on sex and educating on consent. We shouldn’t always have to have the weight on our shoulders, so it was good to explore those issues.”
Does the show explore those low conviction rates?
“It wasn’t one of the points that the writers explored in this storyline.” We end up looking into restorative justice. That’s where the tale is going, with Felicity actually speaking with the perpetrator.
“We don’t really address the fact that there is such a low conviction rate.” Which is terrible since it is such an important subject, but we can’t cover everything on Home and Away in one plot.”I just hope that this raises awareness, begins a conversation, and then maybe people will start studying topics on their own. I hope people are aware of the low rate.”
You mentioned in another interview that the pressure of this storyline took a toll on you in real life. Was there a lot of support from Home and Away and your castmates?
I assumed I’d be alright. I expected to be completely relaxed since I’m an actress and that’s what I do – move in and out of emotions.
“It surprised me how much it weighed on me, simply because having to go into that mindset every day is a lot.” I wasn’t tapping in and out of it very safely because I’d leave work, go home, act normal, and forget that I’d just cried for hours on end thinking about these terrible things.
“I did seek assistance and stated that I needed to speak with someone who is a professional and knows how to deal with this, such as a chemistry coordinator.” That is exactly what I did, and it was quite beneficial.
“When I was on set, I talked a lot to Steph [Panozzo, who plays Eden].” I adore her and consider her to be the most talented actress I’ve ever worked with.
“I’m also very close to Juliet Godwin [who plays Bree], and she was fantastic.” She was my pillar. She also knew what it takes because she’d been through the domestic violence storyline. She was also getting bogged down with that one, so it was wonderful to have that connection. Juliet was a great help to me; she was often checking in and was stunning.
“It was extremely crucial. Home and Away is a highly rapid and fast-paced show. We all forget how intense it is to go through a large storyline like this. So all we have to do is keep checking in on one other and make sure we’re all right. I was quite fortunate to have those people there to support me.”
This storyline has already aired in Australia. What have you made of the reaction?
“I was so nervous, but the reaction was really lovely. I was just very grateful and honoured.
“I’ve had folks approach me and tell me their tales. That’s both overwhelming and wonderful, because if someone had gone through anything as horrific as this, I hoped I had done it right and accurately described it.
“Having people approach me and thank me for it was a dream – it was all I wanted.” As bad as it is, because it is such sensitive subject matter, it was really gratifying to get that reaction and have others tell me their tales. I was both surprised and grateful by the response.”
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