A few days ago, I was thinking about how to deal with a problem. I told myself that the solution was to “man up”. If I were more like a guy, I would be a lot less emotional, and therefore capable of dealing with the whole thing better.
I was quickly hit by a huge sense of irony. I happen to be working on stories at Coronation Street that explore different aspects of male mental health – and yet I had just involuntarily allowed one of the common misconceptions, that men aren’t (or shouldn’t be) emotional, to be part of my thinking.
I realise that, at the moment, Corrie is divisive and I will quite happily accept that it’s darker. But one of the reasons we’ve decided to portray male rape in the show is to raise awareness over an important issue. One in ten rapes in the UK will have a male victim, and conviction rates are low. In a character-driven show like Corrie, audiences engage with stories like this and understand them on a deeper level.
In the show, David Platt (played by Jack P Shepherd) will be raped after his drink is spiked with a date-rape drug by Josh Tucker (Ryan Clayton), a new friend who he has taken into his confidence. The attack makes David one of the 72,000 men who are victims of sexual offences in England and Wales each year; but he’s also dangerously close to following the pattern of male survivors who take in excess of 25 years to speak out (according to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice).
The attack doesn’t come from David’s character – but his response does. Stepson to killer Richard Hillman, husband to murdered Kylie, with a mum who rivals Henry VIII for a propensity for weddings, surely David is pretty robust when it comes to life’s problems? But for David, being raped is of a different order.
With a culture of silence, and a lack of encouragement or support around emotional literacy, many men struggle to talk, not just about sexual assault but about a range of issues. And this has a huge impact on our society. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 (according to the pressure group Campaign Against Living Miserably), 73 per cent of adults who “go missing” are men (according to a York University study), and other research shows that men are nearly three times more likely than women to be alcohol-dependent. This needs to change. We need to talk about it. And we at Coronation Street, far from choosing to tell a “dark story”, are using the programme’s voice to contribute to this discussion.
My realisation about the power of talking came when I worked on a helpline for people with feelings of desperation and suicidal thoughts. I naively envisaged myself talking callers down, but the training taught me it was listening that was really crucial. I heard the most inspirational stories of my life, because the people who called were coping with the hardest things, but they’d picked up the phone to talk. It was a privilege to hear them, and I considered them nothing short of brave.
David’s story sees a breakdown that comes partly through the trauma he’s experienced; but it’s the act of bottling it up, through shame and fear, that really threatens to bring him down. Sometimes, people hide their pain. What you think you are seeing in others might not be the case. But there is always someone willing to listen, and to help.
I am proud that the team at Coronation Street are doing our bit to bring into daylight an issue that is all too often hidden away.