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The Wentworth Scene That Went Too Far

Thanks to the first several seasons streaming on Netflix, gritty Australian TV drama "Wentworth" has built up a cult international audience for the series' powerful depiction of life in a women's prison. The 2013 show has been compared to fellow prison drama "Orange Is The New Black," especially for how it slowly becomes a rich ensemble series, but TV Guide argued that "'Wentworth' doesn't just veer into dark territory every once in a while; it resides there" (via BBC).

The series' first episodes focus on abused wife Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) after she's arrested for trying to murder her husband Harry (Jake Ryan). The later seasons then shift to focus more on the prison staff and other inmates. "Wentworth" only recently concluded in 2021 after eight (or nine, as the last season is split into two parts) seasons of bloody violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and personal vendettas. However, only one scene from the 100 "Wentworth" episodes produced could be described as going overboard in presenting the difficulty of prison life.

Joan's assault wasn't necessary

After her downfall from governor of Wentworth Prison to becoming a member of the general inmate population, Joan "The Freak" Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) gets attacked in an early Season 4 episode of "Wentworth." In "Prisoners," Joan is sexually assaulted in the shower by Lucy "Juice" Gambaro (Sally-Anne Upton) and her gang. Other prisoners are so disgusted by what happens that Joan's even offered protection afterward, and this event is made even worse by the fact that the episode reveals through flashbacks how Joan has been assaulted in the past as well.

The scene could plausibly happen in a harsh prison environment, yet it's so explicit and gratuitous that it feels exploitative, unlike other dark and violent scenes in the gates of "Wentworth." In one thread on the show's subreddit, u/MoonRiver974 writes, "I can't shake the feeling [the scene was] done just for shock value." At this point in the story, viewers already know how badly Joan's schemes will blow up in her face, so there isn't a real reason for the sequence except to surprise the audience. It's a cheap reason to include a rape scene in a television series, and the writers arguably should have known better.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).