Warning: This article addresses sexual assault and may be upsetting for some.

Shortland Street's confronting sexual assault scene in last night's episode has drawn a mixed response from viewers.

The show's storyline about an attacker preying on women came to a head last night when character Zoe was beaten and raped by the masked offender.

Grabbed from behind while getting into her car at night, Zoe was left bloodied and beaten on the concrete. Later in the episode her family and friends rushed to hospital where they were told of the horror of her attack.

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The episode was prefixed with a warning that the episode would be dealing with the issue of rape and contained violence. It also concluded with helplines for anyone who may have been affected.

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Viewers took to social media last night to address the episode. Some were shocked and concerned the scenes would bring up painful reminders for the many victims of sexual assault in New Zealand.

"Intense," one viewer wrote on the show's Facebook page.

"The scary thing is how many women are watching that and remembering what happened to them when they got raped/assaulted. And while I know Zoe's situation isn't real, rape and sexual assault is a very real topic for thousands of women and some men out there."

Another said the storyline needs to be ended soon.

"It's a repetitive reminder for many survivors of rape, offering help after the show and on Facebook is great but it's not a nice reminder."

"This was a very upsetting episode. I hope every woman out there who watched it and had awful memories come flooding back are ok and remember they are survivors," shared another.

Others have praised the show for the way in which they tackled the confronting and sensitive topic.

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One viewer said it was"terrifying and sad to watch" but that "the actress who plays her did this scene so well."

"Well done Shortland Street producers," said another. "Tonight's episode was amazing seriously hit me in the feels touching on these real topics is the best, raising awareness for this sort of stuff is amazing! Amazing acting from Zoe tonight."

"Definitely a well done episode, shows truly how victims are after an assault of any sort. She played it very well indeed, definitely had me on the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes," shared another viewer.

Shortland Street producer Maxine Fleming said the rape of Zoe was the show's "attempt to portray the devastating personal impact of sexual violence".

"It is a disturbing fictional representation of a terrifying social reality. In New Zealand and around the world men rape women, and all too often our society fails to deliver justice for the victims.

"This is our way of speaking to this horrifying situation, in the hope that is comes to an end."

Shortland Street is known for tackling a major storyline in the lead up to the Christmas cliffhanger, but in the past few months alone the show has addressed some heavy issues.

The soap faced criticism at the start of August for a storyline around the potential abortion of a baby with Down syndrome.

The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association said they were "appalled by the insensitive and ignorant storyline."

In a joint statement, TVNZ and South Pacific Pictures stood by the storyline, acknowledging that it was a sensitive topic but the show is known for tackling a range of challenging issues New Zealanders face.

"We realise that not everyone will agree with every choice we make, but we always appreciate when people come to us to share their feedback. We consider the full range of the audience views when making future decisions."

Later in the month the show was in the headlines again, this time when they introduced their first intersex character.

Viewers praised the show for introducing Harper and Drew's new baby Billy who was revealed to be intersex.

"I never thought in my entire time of watching soaps that I would finally see an intersex child," one person wrote. "It's very rare for this to happen, but I am fortunate to have a gorgeous baby who was born like this. Not something people talk about in case of ridicule or teasing and taunting. My baby is now 20 and happy to tell people how it is and is ultra confident."

Where to get help:

• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline on: 0800 227 233 (08002B SAFE).
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.