Date rape focus of teen TV series : New episode airs tonight on Noggin

Date rape focus of teen TV series

New episode airs tonight on Noggin

By David Bauder
Associated Press

Cheerleader Paige runs through several emotions after being date-raped at a party by a high school soccer player.

At first, she denies she’s been raped. She’s angry with herself, and angry with her friends, before directing her fury into trying to prevent her assailant from striking again.

The rape and its impact on Paige and her friends is the centerpiece of a 90-minute episode of “DeGrassi: The Next Generation,” airing at 8 tonight on Noggin.

The teenage soap opera is the most popular prime-time show on Noggin, which is seen in 34 million homes. Its programming is for preschoolers during the day and for youths aged 10 to 17 after 6 p.m.

“As much as I would like to believe that no one in our audience would have to deal with this issue, the statistics bear out that there is a certain percentage that will,” said Sarah Lindman, Noggin’s vice president of programming.

“DeGrassi” has tackled tough topics in the past, including drinking and drugs, the death of a parent and whether to have sex.

That decision is taken away from Paige, portrayed by actress Lauren Collins. She’s among the cast of eighth- and ninth-graders in DeGrassi Community School.

Paige is smitten by Dean, an older soccer player from a nearby high school. He invites her and a friend to a party. Eager to get to know him better, she asks for some privacy and they head to a room upstairs. That idea backfires when they start kissing, Dean ignores Paige’s pleas to stop and takes out a condom.

In the aftermath, Paige has to be convinced she was raped. She questions whether she was to blame.

While the show doesn’t dwell on this, the scene illustrates how it’s important teens not place themselves in situations where date rape can happen, said Dr. Martin Fisher, director of adolescent medicine at the Schneider Children’s Hospital on New York’s Long Island.

The rape happens early in the story, so much of the time is spent on how Paige and her friends deal with it.

Paige is in a band with some friends, and she initially refuses to sing lyrics to a song from the perspective of an abused woman. But when the band plays at an event where Dean unexpectedly shows up, she spits out the words with such vitriol that he leaves.

To write a realistic story, the show’s writers extensively researched the topic, including speaking to some women who had been raped, said Linda Schuyler, “DeGrassi” executive producer.

“It’s obviously a cautionary tale,” Schuyler said. “Kids are playing a really adult game when they start becoming sexually active and there are risks associated with that. We hope it will be a preventive message.”

Paige waits six months before deciding to take the case to authorities, which would lessen the chance of a conviction. The movie ends before a resolution, and Lindman said it’s not clear whether future “DeGrassi” episodes will go back to it.

There are things for boys to learn in the movie, too, beyond the obvious message of “no means no.”

One valuable thread of the story is how Spinner, a boy who wants to date Paige, reacts to the episode. At first, he’s hurt and mad at Paige, not realizing sex with Dean was nonconsensual. Later, he tries to beat Dean up at a basketball game.

The movie’s final scene shows Paige and Spinner making a date.

Noggin is offering parent guides on the Web, with tips and questions about the issues raised on “DeGrassi” to use for discussion starters.

The special is being used to kick off a new season of “DeGrassi.”

Linda said July was chosen as a good time to air it because, with school out for the summer, more viewers will have the time to devote to it.

On television

A 90-minute special episode of “DeGrassi: The Next Generation” airs at 8 tonight on Noggin.

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