The producers of EastEnders have confirmed that an upcoming storyline will focus on male rape, and will involve the characters of Ben Mitchell (played by Max Bowden) and the new bartender Lewis Butler (played by Aidan O’Callaghan).
Trigger Warning: This story discusses male sexual assault, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.
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
Exploring Issues Of Consent, Sexual Identity And Masculinity
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 honoured to be given this opportunity to tell such an important story.”
Kate Oates, BBC’s head of continuing drama said, ”Ben has endured a traumatic time after witnessing homophobic attack on Callum that brought back painful memories of losing Paul.”
“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.”
Producers Enlist Help Of Survivors
Producers have enlisted the assistance of a number of charities who deal with sexual assault to assist in creating a realistic and thoughtfully produced storyline.
SurvivorsUK, Survivors Manchester and the Male Survivors Partnership, have all agreed to assist in the creation of the storyline.
SurvivorsUK Service Manager Marta Almeida said in a statement, “Storylines like this one are an amazing opportunity to explore the reality for so many men, families and communities up and down the UK.”
“Men as victims of sexual assault, rape and abuse is one that is often minimised, ignored or forgotten and unless it’s spoken about, we as a society wont 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
A 2021 report, commissioned by SurvivorsUK, “Found that nearly half of gay and bisexual men have experienced sexual assault,” and “of those who reported experiencing sexual violence, nearly 40% felt they could not tell anyone about it.”
“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
EastEnders had reportedly considered on the idea of focusing on a storyline involving male rape 10 years ago, however producers ultimately ditched the proposed storyline due to its controversial nature.
Oates previously served as a producer of ITV’s Coronation Street and during her tenure included a male rape storyline involving series regular David Platt (played by Jack P. Shepherd) who was assaulted by Josh Tucker (played by Ryan Clayton).
Hollyoaks was the first soap to tackle the issue of male rape, in a 2000 storyline involving the character of Luke Morgan who was raped by Mark Gibbs. Luke had been the victim of bullying at the hands of Luke, who had started as a result of a football team rivalry. Luke ultimately took a stand against Mark, who in turn beat up Luke and raped him.
In 2019, EastEnders also aired a storyline in which Ben’s boyfriend Paul was killed outside a club in a homophobic attack. His murderers later pled guilty and were sentenced to life in prison.
More recently the character of Ben was involved in another hot button storyline in which he along with several other characters were the targets of a homophobic attack by a hate group and Ben’s husband Callum was badly beaten. In the aftermath of this story, Ben has himself taken to attacking homophobic men.
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 been critical of the upcoming storyline and negative comments have been posted to 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.”
EastEnders has regularly included LGBTQ content into its storylines, and given Albert Square its own gay bar and Pride parade in recent years, as well as adding a Muslim lesbian character, Iqra Ahmed, played by Priya Davdra, who appeared on the soap from 2019 until January 2022.
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.