What a year it’s been! We are so excited that voting has officially opened for the @SoapAwards 2022🙌. To vote for all things #EastEnders, including Best Soap, click this link – https://t.co/XxCc8uwpiY pic.twitter.com/wd7G7PzEGX— BBC EastEnders (@bbceastenders) April 21, 2022
EastEnders producers have stated that a future storyline will focus on male rape and will feature Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) and new bartender Lewis Butler (Aidan O’Callaghan).
Exploring Issues Of Consent, Sexual Identity And Masculinity
“I think we’ve been able to really strive to tell the most truthful account we can, and I hope we can raise awareness and understanding on a topic that is rarely covered,” Max Bowden, who plays Ben, said in a statement. “Alongside some wonderful charities, and some very inspirational survivors of male sexual assault in the UK, I think we’ve been able to really strive to tell the most truthful account we can, and I hope we can raise awareness and understanding on a topic that is rarely covered I’m honored to have been given this chance to convey such a significant story.”
Ben Mitchell will be at the centre of a new storyline after his character is raped by Lewis. #EastEnders has been working closely with various charities and organisations on the storyline. To find out more, please visit @bbceastenders on Instagram and Facebook. pic.twitter.com/FV1eN8mau8— BBC EastEnders (@bbceastenders) April 24, 2022
“Ben has been through a horrific time after seeing a homophobic attack on Callum that brought up horrible memories of losing Paul,” said Kate Oates, BBC’s head of ongoing drama.
“As a result, Ben lost his way in life… which is when he found Lewis. Ben finds Lewis attractive, and thinks of him as someone who can understand him in a way Callum does not; but that trust is abused when Lewis crosses a line and rapes Ben.”
“Through this story, we hope to explore issues of consent, sexual identity, masculinity and sexual assault, focusing on how this fateful night impacts Ben and those who love him over the coming months,” Oates said.
Producers Enlist Help Of Survivors
Producers have recruited the help of a variety of sexual assault groups to help them create a realistic and thoughtfully crafted tale.
The Male Survivors Partnership, SurvivorsUK, and Survivors Manchester have all agreed to help with the tale.
“Storylines like this one are a fantastic opportunity to examine the reality for so many men, families, and communities up and down the UK,” SurvivorsUK Service Manager Marta Almeida said in a statement.
“Men as victims of sexual assault, rape, and abuse is one that is often minimized, ignored or forgotten and unless it’s spoken about, we as a society won’t fully be able to tackle it,” said Duncan Craig, the CEO of Survivors Manchester.
“Whilst there is always some criticism at soap, drama or any kind of entertainment telling a story such as this, I am 100% confident that these cultural references have a direct impact on creating change within society but more importantly to me as a survivor, a direct impact on individual survivors themselves,” Craig said in a statement.
Half Of Gay And Bisexual Men Have Experienced Sexual Assault, Says Survey
“Nearly half of homosexual and bisexual males have experienced sexual assault,” according to a 2021 survey commissioned by SurvivorsUK, and “nearly 40% of those who reported experiencing sexual violence felt they couldn’t tell anybody about it.”
“For providing male survivors a platform, a voice, and a moment in time to be seen when many are looking the other way,” Craig said of EastEnders.
“This is a really important storyline and will resonate with many survivors of sexual violence, particularly gay men,” said Alex Feis-Bryce, a trustee of the Male Survivors Partnership.
“Storylines like this can be extremely powerful for survivors suffering in silence and I have no doubt that this one will help people speak out and get support.”
“It also captures the complexities of sexual violence taking place in the context of modern sex lives and, unlike many media depictions, reflects the reality that most sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim.”
“It was a pleasure to work with EastEnders to ensure that this storyline feels real and reflects the experiences of many survivors,” Feis-Bryce said in a statement.
EastEnders Had Previously Shot Down Male Rape Storyline
Producers of EastEnders apparently explored focusing on a storyline involving male rape 10 years ago, but the suggested storyline was ultimately dropped due to its contentious nature.
Oates previously worked as a producer on ITV’s Coronation Street, where she oversaw a male rape storyline featuring series regular David Platt (Jack P. Shepherd), who was assaulted by Josh Tucker during her tenure (played by Ryan Clayton).
In a 2000 plotline involving Luke Morgan, who was raped by Mark Gibbs, Hollyoaks was the first soap to address the topic of male rape. Luke had been the target of bullying by Luke, which had begun as a result of a football team rivalry. Luke eventually stood up to Mark, who assaulted and raped him as a result.
In 2019, EastEnders featured a storyline in which Ben’s partner Paul was killed in a homophobic attack outside a nightclub. His assailants pleaded guilty subsequently and were sentenced to life in prison.
Ben’s character was recently embroiled in another controversial narrative in which he and several other characters were the victims of a homophobic attack by a hate group, and Ben’s husband Callum was severely battered. Ben has gone on a rampage against homophobic men as a result of this narrative.
Fan Reactions Mixed
Totally agree! This upcoming rape storyline – I understand the importance of telling it, but why Ben? No wonder the poor guy's so screwed up. Give him a break! I really want to see them househunting, just something nice & ordinary. Please @bbceastenders?💘 #Ballum 💞#Eastenders https://t.co/GWTWAmZE1P— Carole ☘️ (@mrscarter22) April 26, 2022
Some EastEnders fans have expressed their displeasure with the impending storyline, posting scathing comments on the Digital Spy fan forum.
One user said on the forum, “I don’t know what I’m angrier about. The fact the storyline is a ploy to make us feel sorry for human trafficker, murder & all round narcissist Ben Mitchell or fact Kate Oates keeps getting away with same storylines every soap she goes to.”
Another forum user posted, “I’m not at all convinced the show is interested in telling a compelling storyline about rape that will be driven by the character. But I am almost certain it’s another cynical attempt to win an award and drop the storyline as soon as that’s been achieved.”
Other fans were more supportive of the storyline, with one saying on Twitter “Good luck on the male rape storyline. It’s very important to show and help other men come forward and ask for help. It’s a taboo with men and it absolutely should not be. Once again. Good luck.”
Another user praised the talents of star Max Bowden, Tweeting, “One thing I know is that @MaxBowden will be incredible! He is a very talented, nuanced actor. I can’t wait to see him shine yet again with this. It’s a very important storyline. There is no denying that.”
In recent years, EastEnders has regularly incorporated LGBTQ content into its storylines, including the establishment of a gay bar and a Pride parade in Albert Square, as well as the addition of a Muslim lesbian character, Iqra Ahmed, played by Priya Davdra, who appeared on the soap from January 2019 to January 2022.