EastEnders has finally done something right with Ben Mitchell‘s rape storyline.
The BBC soap has been struggling for a few years now and hasn’t had an impactful storyline since Chantelle Atkins was murdered.
That, viewers will remember, became heavily criticised after it turned into a sensationalist serial killer plot.
The soap has since moved on and has found another issue to highlight – male rape.
And now it is in with a chance of making a real difference.
Fans watched heartbroken this week as Ben was raped by bar manager Lewis Butler.
Despite Ben’s pleas for Lewis to stop, he didn’t.
It was uncomfortable and difficult to watch – and that’s the point.
EastEnders: Ben’s rape plot is a tough watch and that’s the point
While it is true that soaps like Hollyoaks and Coronation Street have tackled male rape in storylines before, none of them have really done it with gay characters.
Luke Morgan’s sexual assault in 2000 sparked decades of stories for the Channel 4 soap – and hopefully EastEnders will do the same with Ben.
Hollyoaks also had John-Paul McQueen – a gay character – being raped by a straight pupil, Finn O’Connor.
In Corrie, it’s been four years since David Platt was attacked by Josh Tucker.
That served as a reset for the character who had become a caricature of a soap villain.
Will the same be true for Ben?
For too long he has been stuck in the villain rut.
And this could be the thing that really sees him question who he wants to be.
All soaps want to raise awareness of issues at times – it’s the whole point of ‘issue-based stories’.
But raising awareness isn’t always the result.
In this case the BBC has worked with a host of charities to ensure the storyline is told accurately and sensitively.
Good for them.
It may have taken them a bit longer to get round to it than their rivals, but anything that does raise awareness deserves praise.
And for the survivors of such assaults to see themselves reflected in a storyline watched by millions, that will help.
EastEnders usually airs weeknights at 7.30pm on BBC One.
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