EastEnders: Louisa Lytton speaks out on Ruby rape storyline

"If there was no consent, then it was rape - there is no grey area"

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EastEnders‘ returning character Ruby Allen is at the centre of a major new storyline starting next week exploring the topic of sexual consent.

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After a night out with pal Stacey Fowler at her husband Martin’s school reunion, fragile Ruby confides in her friend she went home with a guy called Ross and slept with him. However, when she woke up his friend Matt was on top of her… Tuesday 9 October’s episode focuses solely on the aftermath as horrified Stacey explains to Ruby she was raped, as she did not give her consent to sleeping with Matt.

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Meanwhile, Martin hears a very different version of the previous night’s events from mates Ross and Matt, and despite the stallholder questioning them they insist what happened was consensual. As the week goes on, the issue of consent and views on sexual violence form the basis of a debate among the characters in the aftermath of the event, with Stacey and Martin at odds and Ruby unsure as to whether to report the incident to the police. Louisa Lytton, recently back after 12 years as Ruby, tells RadioTimes.com her feelings on the hard-hitting plot and settling back in to life in Walford.

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Was the rape story outlined when the show asked you to return?
Yes, I was told it would happen pretty much straight away. They asked me how I felt about it and I had no apprehension at all – I think it’s important to cover topics like rape and consent, and I hope it makes people sit back and think about their own experiences. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject, it’s a story that needs telling.

Were you surprised to be asked back in the first place?
It had been so long that in my head it wasn’t really an option any more. Ruby had no one left in Walford so there was no reason for her to go back, but (executive consultant) John Yorke said they’d always loved the character and wanted to bring her back but didn’t know how, I guess they found this storyline and thought they’d give it to her. As an actress it’s quite a big deal to be trusted with such a big storyline having not been on the show for so long.

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Is there any sense of a threat from Ross and Matt at the party?
No, she’s flirting and having a good time and is up for something. She’s drinking, dancing and having the time of her life, then Stacey and Martin leave her to it. You don’t see anything after that, then the next episode is the morning after and she tells Stacey what happened which cuts between the boys’ point of view. The story is told from the two different sides, and shows how differently we think of sexual experiences and what was right and what was wrong, what should and shouldn’t have happened. The boys tell Martin that Ruby was up for it and had sex with two guys, but Ruby only consented to sleeping with one of them.

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Does she realise she’s been raped until Stacey says it?
Because she didn’t stop it she doesn’t see it like that, but Stacey points out she didn’t say yes and therefore didn’t choose to have sex with him – therefore it’s rape. From then on she goes over what she should have done and there’s a lot of self-blame and doubt for Ruby.
How does Ruby feel in the days after it happens?
She definitely blames herself, which is what happens a lot in cases like these, because of the media and what they’re told, ‘you shouldn’t have drunk so much, you shouldn’t have worn that short skirt, you shouldn’t have flirted,’ – but in that moment if you don’t consent it is rape and that is it, there is no are area. Hopefully it will raise questions especially among the younger audience.
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Why doesn’t Ruby want to report it to the police?
Through the research I’ve done with Rape Crisis, it’s because of self-blame. You’re so traumatised and disgusted you don’t want to accept what has happened, you just want it to go away. Obviously it doesn’t, and in some ways it never will. Stacey has been through this experience and urges Ruby to report it or she’ll never forgive herself unless she removes the blame and tell her story for what it is. For Ruby she was drunk and it’s a bit hazy, but as things start coming back to her she pieces it together.
Is that why Stacey persuades her to go the clinic?
Yes, so she can have swabs and samples and give over clothing and other evidence so it’s logged, then it’s up to you if you want to report it to the police later. Without that initial information, if she woke up a year later and have an epiphany and wanted to report the rape there would be nothing to go by – that’s what we’re trying to show, you don’t have to go to the police straight away but at least going to the clinic will help you later if you change your mind.
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How do you think this will affect Ruby in the future?
When she left she was quite weak and timid, she was young and very vulnerable. Initially as we see her again she is vibrant, confident and full of life, but she doesn’t have a family and is very lonely. There is probably a lot more trauma there than you might think, and what triggers that to come out is the rape.
Is it daunting to be carrying such an important storyline?
I feel more equipped now, at 29, to be able to speak about it and do the research than if I’d had to do it when I was first in the show. I was doing my GCSEs back then, now I have more life experience and have more experience as an actress. I guess that has helped give me the confidence to carry something like this. EastEnders’ research team has worked closely with Rape Crisis who have overseen all the scripts, and I’ve had someone on hand to ask any questions about Ruby’s reactions and state of mind. You have to do a story like this justice for the people out there who have been through it for real.

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