Millions of people each week tune into soap operas such as Coronation Street and EastEnders on TV, and radio soap opera The Archers.
Soap operas play a key role in raising awareness about important safeguarding issues within their storylines. For instance, this year EastEnders have highlighted the rise in domestic abuse cases and The Archers have discussed the disproportionate risk of modern slavery for people with learning disabilities.
Broadcasters have tremendous power to influence public perceptions and it is positive to see producers working with third sector organisations to raise awareness of safeguarding through their storylines.
EastEnders and Domestic Abuse
In the series, a young woman has been preparing to leave her abusive husband, and the abuse escalates while she is trapped with him during lockdown. She is tragically killed by her husband in a recent episode.
Charities Women’s Aid and Refuge hope that the story line will support people to recognise the signs of an abusive relationship and encourage more people to seek professional help.
The Archers and the ‘Hidden’ Connection Between Disability and Modern Slavery
In a recent episode of The Archers, it was revealed that three men, kept as slaves, have a learning disability or mental health needs. This connection between modern slavery and disability is rarely discussed.
Ann Craft Trust’s Lisa Curtis discusses how The Archers’ storyline can raise awareness about how members of the public can spot the signs of modern slavery. For instance, by looking out for groups of people accommodated at unusual locations and being picked up and dropped off at odd hours. And, when having building work done, households can look out for labourers who appear neglected and malnourished and who are either uncommunicative or not allowed to speak for themselves.
Coronation Street and Child Grooming
In 2017, Coronation Street producers worked with the NSPCC and survivors of sexual abuse as part of a storyline featuring a relationship between 35-year-old Nathan and 17-year-old Bethany.
The storyline showed Nathan buying Bethany alcohol and gifts. In later episodes Nathan was seen taking Bethany to a party at his flat where he introduced her to his male friends who went onto sexually abuse her.
The soaps producers, and charities such as the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, hoped the storyline would raise awareness of the signs of grooming and encourage more victims to come forward and seek help.
Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility
Soaps play an important part in raising awareness about abuse in everyday life.
Working with survivors of abuse and third sector organisations allows soap operas to present realistic storylines about abuse and signpost viewers to appropriate professional support which can help to save lives.