This week Coronation Street aired its first male rape storyline, proving to be one of its most controversial topics to date.
The scenes, which see newcomer Josh Tucker drug and sexually assault hairdresser David Platt, have generated over 100 complaints to Ofcom.
It has also caused a debate on social media about the place of difficult real-life issues on light entertainment programmes.
David’s storyline has gone some way to highlight how seriously soaps take issue-based storylines and how much work goes into them.
Ryan Clayton – who plays Josh – tells the BBC he “can’t stress the importance” of why stories like this need to be aired and brought to a wider audience.
“The great thing, with whatever soap is covering it, is you’ve got millions of people tuning into a programme,” he says.
The story of male rape is not new to soaps and Hollyoaks was the first to cover it – first in 2000 with Luke Morgan and in 2015 with John Paul McQueen.
Clayton says the reason the David Platt story has caused such a stir is because “Corrie targets an older generation” who he says can be “naive” about such issues, in comparison to the younger audience of Hollyoaks.
He also hopes that the difficult scenes could encourage viewers who have been victims of sexual assault to speak out for the first time.
‘I wanted it to be like real life’
Clayton worked with Duncan Craig, who used his own experience of rape and sexual assault to advise on every part of the story – from the moment the idea was discussed to the day it was filmed and edited.
His charity, Survivors Manchester, has also been involved in offering advice to victims off the back of the show.
“I wanted it to be like real life,” Craig tells the BBC.
“Not the rape on Friday, telling the police on Monday and punishing the perpetrator on Tuesday.”
He says that the team at Coronation Street, headed up by executive producer Kate Oakes, listened to his ideas throughout the entire process.
Craig – who has waived his right to anonymity – was involved in script-writing, filming scenes and working with actors on the show to make sure everything felt like an accurate portrayal.
He first got involved in advising soaps on rape storylines by working on the John Paul scripts with a team of Hollyoaks writers.
“When I found out the character was David Platt, I knew this was so vitally important as he’s someone viewers have grown up with – it feels like he’s part of their family,” says Craig.
“Corrie is an institution and a national treasure and I thought we had a real opportunity to show that rape can happen to anyone.”
He highlights certain aspects of the story as being significant, including the fact that David is straight and raped by a man whose sexuality is unknown – adding that in many instances, it is assumed that the rapist is gay.
“It was important that David was not raped by a stranger because that story’s been told in drama a few times – victims are more likely to know the perpetrator,” Craig adds.
Something both Craig and Clayton also mention is the importance in the story of accurately portraying male mental health.
“David’s never had a positive relationship with men. Recently his half-brother has disappeared and he’s never really known his dad,” Craig adds.
‘It was a night of fun’
Clayton says he made sure to correctly portray the most sensitive aspects of the story – including grooming David and slipping the drug GHB into his drink – when playing Josh.
“Every bit of information from David’s past, Josh laps up and takes to his advantage,” says Clayton.
“He’s very manipulative and takes an opportunity – David needs a new male role model.
“In Josh’s mind he won’t accept that he’s raped David – he sees it as a night of fun, [that] David is the one with a troubled past.”
The storyline also brought a new element to the soap – looking at the idea of male vulnerability.
“Maybe there’s a crisis in masculinity,” Craig adds, when asked why some people are reacting negatively to the plot.
“Men don’t know what it means to be a man or how they should be and this is a huge story to talk about.
“It’s about shame, guilt, anxiety and depression, sense of self and worthlessness, not being able to be a ‘man’ and is connected to psychological wellbeing.
“Rape and sexual assault is about power and control and when someone’s had this asserted over them, you’re left with a sense of nothingness.”
Clayton adds: “If you look at the figures for male rape, on average it takes men 20 years to open up.
“When you think about the way men deal with it, some will take it to the grave.”
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