How far should soaps go in portraying real life?

It’s rare that I write about soaps: by the time I have finished my opinion on a storyline it’s already out of date.

However, a recent article about the portrayal of rape in Coronation Street has provoked me into action. Just how accurate do soaps need to be in portraying a realistic storyline in the case of serious crimes?

Alison King plays Carla Connor

The most salient storylines have to be the rape case of Carla Connor in Coronation Street and the treatment of Zainab Masood at the hands of her abusive husband, Dr. Yusef Khan, in Eastenders. Both involved horrific scenes that really brought home the reality of domestic violence.

Many viewers criticised the portrayal of Zainab’s behaviour in light of her treatment from her second husband, Yusef. He was cruel and abusive, feeding her sleeping tablets to make it appear she’d attempted suicide and verbally abusing her on a daily basis. He beat her and distanced her from her family and first husband, Masood. Yusef’s daughter eventually discovered that he was responsible for a fire that badly disfigured Zainab in her youth. However, Zainab’s reaction to her abusive husband was sadly not unusual, as abusive partners are skilled in manipulation.

But it’s the most recent storyline of Carla’s rape in Coronation Street that’s come under fire by Cassie Williams, a barrister who’s worked on several rape cases. Williams argues that the rape case was not representative of a real life trial, for many reasons.

The first was in the lack of victim support. I’d argue that this was a problem from the very start. The policewoman assigned to Carla’s case (DC Malone) was dismissive, insensitive, officious and brusque.

Whilst sat in court,
Leanne discovers Peter is having an
affair with Carla

Williams also criticises the portrayal of cross-examination and the idea that jurors vilify women. I’d agree with point two: Frank’s plan involving handing Leanne photos of Peter and Carla kissing was to get around the fact that evidence must be shown to the defence and prosecution before the start of a trial and that defence and prosecution are aware of any questions that will be presented in cross examination. However, we didn’t see the jurors’ discussion: we don’t know the reasons for Frank’s acquittal in their eyes. Was it was the revelation that Peter and Carla were now in a relationship? Perhaps it was their belief in Frank’s evidence that Carla wanted to get rid of him and was crying rape to avoid his involvement in her company? It may even have been because they felt there was too much doubt.

It would have been enlightening and fascinating to have seen, even briefly, inside the jury room. However, Coronation St likes to lighten the atmosphere and relieve tension, even within its more dramatic episodes, swapping from Norris and Mary in the Rovers to Roy and his mother in the cafe then back to the court room. There’s little room for due process.

I’d argue that Coronation Street and Eastenders already do a lot to raise awareness of issues like rape, incest, domestic violence and even LGBT storylines; the Carla Connor case already raising the profile of Rape Crisis, who received a 800% spike of calls when Carla’s rape scene was aired.

Frank walks free from court

Yet soaps also have a duty to think about the portrayal of these more sensitive subjects. Regardless of how realistic Frank’s acquittal was, Carla’s ordeal in the court room should have been handled more sensitively. Yes, it may raise awareness of the reality of how many rape cases end in acquittal (around 94%), in the eyes of the average viewer – who are sure of Frank’s guilt – and show the efficacy of victim blaming and bringing up a rape victim’s sex life, love affairs and motives. But I worry that women who’ve survived rape will be deterred from reporting their rapist to the police lest they go through all that grief and humiliation, for nothing.

Whilst spoilers about Frank’s untimely demise are rife, real justice is far away for many perpetrators and I doubt the rape conviction rate can be truly representative of false claims.

Referring to an interview in the Guardian with Alison Saunders, the CPS’ Chief Prosecutor, Williams concludes by stating that she wants more victims to come forward and says “neither her article nor the media are helping that to happen…..”

There’s not much more I could add to that.

Posted by Tannice for thecustardtv.

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