Violence hits Home
Summer Bay dares to address a confronting subject, writes Colin Vickery
WHEN Demi Harman signed to play 15-year-old Sasha Bezmel in Home and Away, the last thing she expected was a domestic violence storyline.
Harman, 18, knew Sasha was trouble — a rebellious teen hurting from the death of her mother in a car accident.
But Sasha getting hit by teen River Boy Stu Henderson (Brenton Thwaites) was a whole other matter.
Stu suffers from ADHD, but he has a darker secret. He has seen his mum getting hit by his dad on a regular basis.
Stu has also been physically abused by Jake’s gang. He has a short fuse and he takes it out on Sasha. Stu says he loves Sasha, but then slaps her in a jealous rage.
He wins her back with an expensive ring and love blossoms until he slaps her again.
‘‘ I know some 15-year-olds who have experienced trouble growing up but nothing like this,’’ Harman says.
‘‘ Sasha has just moved to the Bay. She has known this guy for only a couple of weeks and she has to deal with all this stuff. This (domestic violence) is a very severe issue. I was very glad to be able to learn about it to aid in my performance.’’
Home and Away isn’t the only TV show tackling domestic violence.
On The Slap, all hell breaks loose when a fiery Harry (Alex Dimitriades) hits another couple’s child, Hugo (Julian Mineo), at a suburban barbecue. Harry’s parents, Rosie (Melissa George) and Gary (Anthony Hayes) call the police. Friends and family are forced to take sides.
The Slap re-ignited debate on whether it is acceptable to physically discipline another’s child. Family groups are split on the issue but Switched On readers gave slapping a resounding ‘‘ no’’.
‘‘ If someone smacked my child I’d call the police,’’ reader Patricio Gonzalez said. Under Australian law, it is illegal to strike someone else’s child.
TV star Andrew O’keefe is adamant that shows such as Home and Away and The Slap are doing a service to the com- munity by raising such a sensitive issue. O’keefe is ambassador of White Ribbon, an organisation that campaigns to stop violence against women. O’keefe says the statistics are frightening.
‘‘ In the last year, about 12 per cent of 18- to 24-yearold women will have experienced an incident of physical or sexual assault,’’ he says.
‘‘ If you’re in an abusive relationship as a young woman (like Sasha), you’re likely to be more vulnerable than an older person because you have very little experience of relationships and what is acceptable.’’
This isn’t the first time Home and Away has tackled challenging social issues. In 2009, a lesbian storyline involving Summer Bay policewoman Charlie Buckton (Esther Anderson) caused controversy.
Producer Cameron Welsh says the storylines are not a cynical ratings grab. He says the show has a duty to cover hot-button topics occasionally. ‘‘ We’ve tackled abuse storylines in the past but we haven’t done it with such a young character before,’’ Welsh says.
‘‘ What we have tried to do with stories of this kind is not make judgments. It is really a case of presenting it and leaving it open for discussion.
‘‘ Our research tells us Home and Away is watched a lot by mums and teenagers. (That means) we can present an issue like this (domestic violence) at 7 o’clock at night. Families can watch it and then discuss it.’’
Harman agrees. ‘‘ It is absolutely going to be so beneficial for younger viewers — to educate themselves about relationships and how important it is to protect yourself.’’ Home and Away, Channel 7, weeknights 7pm White Ribbon Day is on November 25 Teen trauma: Demi Harman and Brenton Thwaites and (inset) the Summer Bay slap.