Soap Operas: A Good Platform for Raising Awareness?

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Lisa Ho

Latest posts by Lisa Ho (see all)

Soaps traditionally have a reputation for not being a particularly cool form of entertainment, and for being a bit… shall we say, far-fetched at times? However, you can’t deny that they reach a huge audience every week and so, they have a responsibility to do not only entertaining and amusing storylines, but also to tackle hard-hitting, socially relevant issues like domestic abuse (both male and female), losing a child or life-changing injuries.

One of Coronation Street’s latest storylines is that of 16 year old Bethany Platt (played by Lucy Fallon) being groomed for a sinister sex ring. Nathan Curtis (played by Christopher Harper) is mentally manipulating her into believing that what is happening is the way a normal relationship should function, while he’s really planning to make her a sex slave, and has already started pimping her out to other members of the ring.

Bethany and her abuser, Nathan (ITV)

Now, soaps are not always the most realistic of platforms; take the storyline from Eastenders where Tanya Branning tried to bury her philanderer husband Max alive: very silly. Not to mention the infamous ‘body under the patio’ storyline from Brookside.

Medical issues are also notoriously skipped over in an almost blasé fashion; Ken Barlow had a stroke earlier this year, but now seems none the worse for wear; Sophie Webster was hit by a car a couple of years ago and faced the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair, she’s now walking around as if nothing had ever happened to her.

However, soaps also have the ability to tackle uncomfortable and sometimes controversial issues in order to raise awareness of them, and this brings us to Bethany’s storyline.

She’s currently being groomed by the much older Nathan to be a part of his ring of sex slaves. Watching through the eyes of an older and more experienced adult, it’s easy for us to see the danger Bethany is in, but to truly understand and appreciate the story’s plausibility, we have to try and imagine it from the perspective of a naive and innocent 16-year old girl.

Already vulnerable after a rough year in which she was mercilessly bullied and called fat by some of her school peers, she had low self-esteem and it’s easy to see why she falls for Nathan’s charms. Older and seemingly kind-hearted and caring, they first met when he saved her over the Christmas period when she’d passed out in an alley due to starving herself and overdosing on diet pills. Bethany latches onto him in the way that can only happen in a first love. It takes hold of her to the point that she’ll do anything for him, including allowing herself to be abused because she doesn’t have the life experience to see what’s happening and is desperate to seem more grown up so he’ll take her seriously.

Bethany and her bullies (ITV)

Even after one of his ‘parties’ where he allows 3 men to take advantage of her, during which his flat is raided by police and her family take her home, she still can’t see what’s happening. All she can think about is getting back to Nathan, utterly convinced that he’s completely innocent and loves her. Even though everyone around her can see it and tell her what a bad man he is, she won’t hear it, and this is what abusers rely on. They need to get their victims completely under their spell to alienate them from their families and friends so they can continue to abuse and get away with it.

Nathan ‘proposes’ to further ensnare Bethany (ITV)

For this, the show should be applauded; not only have they worked very closely with charities like the NSPCC and Barnardo’s to make sure they get it right, they also have a primetime platform on which to raise awareness of the issue.

Yes it’s uncomfortable to watch; it’s meant to be. This abuse is happening in real life, right now, to younger kids than her and it’s up to shows like Coronation Street to bring these unpleasant topics into the mainstream consciousness and create a dialogue. There have been some complaints to Ofcom about the disturbing nature of some scenes, but this means people are paying attention to the problem and it helps to highlight it.

ITV should be praised, as should the cast and crew of Corrie for dealing with this very real issue in a gritty and unpleasant, but ultimately realistic and sensitive manner.

Don’t worry, it will all work out for Bethany. She’s due to discover what’s happening and get out, then try and get revenge on her abuser, but not all stories like this have a happy ending.

If this storyline and others like it can stop just one young person falling into these traps, it’s worth doing. Well done Corrie.

If you have been affected by this storyline or are worried about a child, you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or Childline on 0800 1111

Do you think soap opera’s are a good platform for raising awareness?

What do you think? Are soaps are a good platform for raising awareness? Let us know in the comment box below.

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