Duncan Craig, Chief Executive Officer of Survivors Manchester, writes how his charity is helping to reach out to survivors of male sexual abuse through working with the makers of Coronation Street and Hollyoaks. Producers from both primetime television programmes, watched by millions across the UK, have been working on powerful, groundbreaking storylines in recent years which have helped to break the silence on male sexual abuse. Lloyds Bank Foundation has been supporting the charity since 2017 and awarded its most recent grant worth £40k in February.
Five years ago, Survivors Manchester worked with production company Lime Pictures and Channel 4 to tell a ground-breaking story on long-running soap Hollyoaks about the rape of one of its characters, John Paul McQueen. While Hollyoaks did cover male sexual abuse in 2002, that was in a late night special whereas this was going to be broadcast in the primetime 6.30pm slot.
No one could have predicted what would have come from that partnership, especially the Government’s announcement of the first ever Male Rape Support fund. I guess in some way we contributed to changing a small corner of the earth.
The relationship with Hollyoaks and its makers, Lime Pictures, remained firm and they were always on call to help us out with raising awareness of the issues affecting male survivors of sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation. In fact the actor who played John Paul, James Sutton, became one of our amazing ambassadors and has been a huge supporter of ours over the years.
Working on and being connected to such a powerful story helped Survivors Manchester stick in people’s minds. A few years later the Executive Producer of Coronation Street made contact and asked to meet. One meeting turned into another, a presentation at a story and script conference followed and the result was the incredibly powerful story of the rape of David Platt at the hands of Corrie newcomer Josh Tucker. This storyline touched a nerve with audiences. After the show was broadcast, National Male Survivor Helpline saw a 1700% increase in calls. Our charity also saw a 64% increase in direct requests for support.
The development of David’s story was influenced in part by the real life experience of another of our ambassadors, Sam. Together we read through and commented on scripts, talked to writers, worked with cast members and directors, and ended up in front of many cameras and journalists ourselves as the press took hold of the story.
Seeing the input we had come to life in the longest running soap in the world was incredible but it was the personal stories of men breaking their silence directly because of what they’ve seen on their television screens that we received on social media, on email and even from people directly that had the biggest impact on us as individuals. For me, as a male survivor who set up and now runs a male survivor organisation, whose first ‘proper job’ 26 years earlier was on Coronation Street felt like something had come full circle. 26 years previously I WAS the silent survivor at Coronation Street and now 26 years later I AM the vocal survivor helping Coronation Street tell a story that is helping men break their silence. I get goose bumps just writing that.
Similarly, when I talk about the next story we worked with our friends at Hollyoaks, I get shivers of pride. Their Exec Producer had been so inspired by seeing the Crewe and Man City ex-footballers stand outside court as paedophile Barry Bennell was convicted of numerous counts of sexually abusing boys during his reign as a professional football coach that he felt he needed to do something. I had seen the same footballers appear on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme and talk about their experiences in a way I’d never heard before. I was so inspired by one of those men, Steve Walters, that I reached out to offer my hand of support and he returned the offer becoming another of our ambassadors. Steve stated publicly on numerous occasions times the writers got it so right that it felt like he was reading parts of his life story. The #BreakTheSilence football abuse storyline we developed and that played out on Hollyoaks was not only a massive hit with audiences but won numerous awards. But possibly the most important part of that whole process was that we managed to get the first ever ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) role shown on a soap. That meant that so many more survivors themselves better understood the type of support that is available to them from when they report abuse to the police through to appearing at court.
I was once asked what was the point of getting involved in these dramas and shouldn’t I focus my attention on services? But the simple answer is this is me drawing attention to services. I’m helping storytellers tell stories that show the public what help is available and that male survivors exist. I want to empower male survivors out there who are watching these shows to break the silence.
We will continue to help these stories be told and just recently ITV announced a new story was in development with Survivors Manchester which we’re incredibly excited about.
If we’re going to change the world for male survivors, we need to first change the view the world has about male survivors. A big thank you to long-running soaps like Coronation Street and Hollyoaks because they give us the platform to challenge perceptions, reach new audiences and help break the silence.