It's been a big few months for Shortland Street's Shavaughn Ruakere.
"Man, there's been some really sad stuff so far," she told Culture last week. Since her character, Roimata, suffered a terrifying sexual assault at the hands of a mystery attacker, she and husband TK (Ben Mitchell) have been like "two lost souls splashing around in the ocean trying to find each other. Trying to get back to how it all was before".
In this week's Christmas cliffhanger episodes, that anonymous assailant will finally be revealed but it won't spell the end of the heartache for Roimata and TK. But when pressed for details, Ruakere would only reveal: "Roi doesn't know who to trust right now. She's all over the show and, well, let's just say I had to do some running through a forest in heels."
Ruakere says she's proud of the hard-hitting storyline she's been tackling and is also proud of the show for taking it on. "I know there are some people who thought it was too much for a 7pm family show but here's the thing: Sexual abuse, like suicide, is so often not spoken about; there's so much shame and fear attached to it. Putting it out there on a show as far reaching and as close to home as Shorty could get people talking and that's definitely got to be a good thing."
Producer Steven Zanoski is full of praise for the work Ruakere has been doing.
"I've really admired Shav's dedication to staying true to the emotional depths demanded by the story. From firsthand experience talking to victims of sexual assault, Shavaughn has this week written a letter of protest to the prime minister regarding the government's withdrawal of funding for the sexual violence helpline. This production can be proud that Shavaughn has lent her public profile to promoting awareness around this issue. To me, this says this story was more than just a job for Shavaughn."
The Christmas cliff, as it's known in the business, has become a tradition for the popular soap, with the culmination of some huge storylines, as well as some big surprises leaving viewers hanging over the seasonal break until Shorty resumes in January.
Of this year, Zanoski says, "the surprises keep stacking up through the week, not just in the last minutes". Roimata's attacker will be revealed earlier in the week but Zanoski says "keep watching for a revelation on Thursday night that will shake up your expectations for what will happen in Friday's cliffhanger episode and change everything in 2013".
As for what happens to Roimata when the show returns in January, Ruakere hopes for a brighter outlook. "Give the girl something to laugh about, please! I feel like I've been having the biggest cry for the last three months," she says. "It would be nice to see her have some peace but, then again, this is Shortland Street. There's always more drama just around the corner."
Sunday Star Times