Image Credit: Adam Larkey/ABCLast week’s episode of Private Practice — which included an unflinching portrayal of Dr. Charlotte King (KaDee Strickland) being raped — provoked widespread discussion about sexual assault, its depiction on television, and Charlotte’s decision not to report it. More than 10 million viewers watched, a 44 percent ratings surge for the medical drama. As the ramifications of the assault continue to play out on tonight’s episode, we talked to Strickland about the harrowing storyline.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What kind of reactions to the episode have you experienced?
KADEE STRICKLAND: The woman from the rape treatment here at UCLA, who I worked with [to research the role] — for her to reach out and say to me that she’s never seen it depicted that way, that was just jaw-dropping. It was a great point of pride for both [Private Practice creator] Shonda Rhimes and myself. And in like kind, the RAINN hotline has just been booming. I say that knowing that it’s not just people who are reporting attacks but people who are co-survivors. The fact that anyone felt compelled to get help or come forward or deal with it affecting someone they love — my God, there’s nothing more extraordinary. People have come up to me and thanked me. I’m reeling from that. Our little TV show done good.
What about Charlotte’s decision not to report the rape yet?
It’s a very important part of Charlotte King’s story and it’s also a very realistic response. This is not a woman who is necessarily the most open person to begin with. That was orchestrated very carefully with what we learned from the rape treatment center. And it’s also not over. You’ve not seen the last of [rapist] Lee McHenry [played by Nicholas Brendon]. You’ve certainly got, in this next episode, the truth coming out. More importantly, I think it’s great to actually tell the story of someone who is in true denial. And for Addison [Kate Walsh] to do a rape treatment kit without her knowledge is absolutely going to trigger a very, very big response. I mean, this happens. It’s a fictitious circumstance because it’s my character. But people don’t come forward for decades sometimes. And I hope it was clear from the PSA that we did that we want people to seek help. One phone call can allow you to get treatment, it doesn’t matter if it happened 24 hours ago or 20 years ago. But I think it’s very appropriate for the character, what we did. And then we have Violet [Amy Brenneman], who is a survivor, who, once she learns what happens, is very adamant about getting help. So I love that we’ve done it that way.
What did you think of Charlotte’s assertion that we rarely see rape depicted realistically on TV?
It’s so spot-on. We filmed a lot of footage you never saw. It was intense. That was exactly what we intended. We wanted it to be truthful, we wanted people to feel connected to this event so that perhaps they had more of a consciousness and a humanity around survivors. What you saw in the episode was brutal, but it is not half as graphic or horrible as the things I heard about in my research. ABC — I commend them for letting us tell it in the way that we got to, but by no means is any of that even comparable to anything that women and men have had experience with.
Do you think this shows the power of TV to do good?
I think it’s undeniable when you get the kind of emails I’ve gotten and had people come up to me. There’s no way this doesn’t do good. Anytime you can be of service, particularly in entertainment, is a blessing. It’s an intimate relationship the television has with people. So to use the opportunity to bring a delicate subject matter into people’s consciousness is such a gift. For me anything that allows people to feel seen and heard, that’s what I think this thing should be about. If you can allow people to put in their hearts something they may not have let themselves thing about otherwise, I don’t have words for how that feels.
How will we see this playing out in subsequent episodes?
You’ve not seen the last of Lee McHenry. Obviously a person has to reconnect intimately with their partner. They have to face the space where this unthinkable crime happened. And they have to try to pick up the pieces and become whole again. You’re gonna see Charlotte do all of that.