Raising Awareness of Sexual Abuse in the Soaps

I feel like I am constantly reading about the fact that the soaps are “too dark” these days and they are neglecting the humour they once had, I am not in this camp. I feel the people who are in this camp have a short memory, serial bad man Richard Hillman drove the entire Platt family into a canal after murdering and attempting to murder others on Coronation Street in 2003. Soaps have been dark since forever! The thing that particularly bothers me about the “soaps are too dark” rhetoric is the place soap operas have in being representative of people’s lives (all be it in an often dramatised one). People are being groomed, raped and exploited, it is their life and they deserve this to be fully represented in the soaps.

Coronation Street started airing the Bethany Platt child sexual exploitation storyline in 2017, which served to raise awareness of the severity of child sexual exploitation and I can assure you that in my household alone this started many a conversation on the reality of this. Although I heard a number of complaints about pre-watershed content of Coronation Street at this time I firmly believed that this is a story that needed to be told. In my working life I come across stories like Bethany’s however for those that don’t this storyline provides education and understanding.

Following on for this Coronation Street have also introduced a male rape storyline for David Platt which resulted in a surge in referrals to rape crisis organisations. The authenticity of the storyline is a credit to both the writers and Survivors Manchester who existed as an advisory organisation. Moving on over to Emmerdale, we are currently seeing Charity Dingle re-live the horror of historical child sexual exploitation.

All of these storylines are doing absolute wonders for raising awareness, educating an audience and opening up conversations of the reality of sexual abuse however I do worry they may also be creating anxiety in survivors. All three storylines rightly show reporting and justice-seeking for their abuse however this sadly is not a reality for so many victims.

Reporting sexual abuse is a terrifying process for most who have to go through it and our statistics on the number of people who have been sexually assaulted are likely to be skewed because of this. For this reason I wonder whether the flip side of the amazing awareness being raised within the soaps is resulting in a lot of people experiencing anxiety and potentially guilt around the process of reporting.

The treatment of people going through legal proceedings for sexual abuse reports fills me with absolute rage and almost always results in me cleansing my Facebook friends. In the process of the recent trial of Irish Rugby players I saw so many people talking about how this woman had ruined the careers of these men with no mention of the way her life had been ruined. For survivors this must be a very scary thing to read.

I truly do applaud the work of soap operas in their sensitive handling of these important storylines and I am all for this continuing however I feel we need to carefully consider the impact on those for whom this is their reality. I also wish that the government would get behind the amazing specialist organisations that are supporting people through legal proceedings rather than cutting funding at a time where it is needed more than ever for there is no use in raising awareness if there is no service to pick up the influx of required support.

For details of support services near you, please visit Rape Crisis England and Wales.

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