Charity Barnardo's say they "applaud" Emmerdale bosses for highlighting "disturbing" child sex abuse crimes.
The ITV soap have raised awareness of teacher-pupil grooming in one of their latest hard-hitting plots, which has seen Maya Stepney and her student Jacob Gallagher have sex just a few days after his 16th birthday.
The characters also exchanged sexually explicit images over text, and kissed on a number of occasions, including before Jacob turned 16.
After Tuesday's (May 21) episode saw Maya arrested over her abuse, Barnardo's - a charity aiming to help young people affected by sexual exploitation, which has been advising on the storyline - has thanked the soap for bringing the "very real and disturbing issue" to light.
Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said: "Some Emmerdale fans have been vocal about feeling uncomfortable with the grooming storyline, but we applaud producers for highlighting this very real and disturbing issue."
Although Jacob was 16 when Maya had sex with him - which is above the age of consent - it is still a crime for an adult in a position of trust, such as a teacher, to engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 18.
Javed added in his statement: "When a boy or girl turns 16, that doesn't mean they can no longer be sexually abused or exploited.
Children are children by law until they are 18.
"Children are children by law until they are 18.
"While 16 year olds are free to make choices about sex, teachers and other adults who abuse their positions of trust to groom young people under 18 are still committing crimes.
"Adult abusers like Maya in Emmerdale exploit young people's feelings of loneliness, their need for care and their desire to be loved, before abusing them.
"Barnardo's support services see first-hand how this abuse can cause long-term harm and affect young people's attitudes to love, relationships and sex as they move into adulthood."
If you have been affected by this plot, please visit the Barnardo's website.
Emmerdale airs Monday to Friday at 7pm with an extra episode on Thursday at 8pm.
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