I’m a soaps expert and EastEnders has made a big mistake with Ben Mitchell’s rape storyline

I HAVE been reporting on and working with soaps like EastEnders for years – and I don’t criticise them lightly.

Hundreds of talented people work flat out behind the scenes to make them the best they can be – and they put their all into their work and care about what they’re doing.


But sometimes there are mistakes – and Ben Mitchell’s rape storyline in EastEnders is one of them.

With the power soaps have to change things in the real world – they have a responsibility to not abuse that gift, and they need to represent reality.

It has always been joked that EastEnders is misery-based opposite Corrie’s classic humour and Emmerdale’s sheep and spectacle.

But Ben’s rape storyline is beyond misery – it’s trauma porn and uncomfortable to watch.

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There is the argument that it is a storyline about sexual assault and brutality and of course that shouldn’t be a comfortable watch.

But there has to be a pay-off at some point. Reality must be represented in soapland – and this isn’t reality for anyone.

In Walford if you’re queer, it seems like you either exist in a vacuum of misery and suffering or you get murdered.

That’s if you get to stay – there’s been a clear-out of late with queer characters sent packing without a storyline and sometimes even an exit scene.

In 2022 when it can feel like the country is sliding backwards and many queer people are more worried than they should be about the state of our country, EastEnders shouldn’t be heaping more misery on top of that.

Not without balancing it out anyway. It's like a Ricky Gervais comedy special without the comedy, or as it's now known – a Ricky Gervais comedy special.

The Government has been dragging its feet on banning conversion therapy – it needn’t bother.

The way EastEnders has treated its queer characters recently is enough to send even the most ardent of the LGBTQs fleeing into Narnia.

In a world where Heartstopper exists – EastEnders doesn’t look gritty and progressive, it looks sordid and dated.

For a soap to work there has to be light and shade. Joy and sadness just like life. But where’s the joy? One Pride episode done well in 2019 does not balance out years of trauma-porn at the expense of queer characters.

The soap that gave us the best coming out scene in soap history with Johnny Carter has been resting on its laurels ever since.

It had soapland’s first gay kiss back in 1989 with Colin and Guido – but it cannot live on past glories.

Ballum doesn’t even seem written for queer viewers for the most part – it seems to serve a section of social media that fetishises gay relationships to an uncomfortable degree.

Ben’s a murderer, a human trafficker and a gangster – he’s hardly a sympathetic character – and he’s spent the past few months acting like a gay vigilante hunting down homophobes.

And former hat-carrying-man-soldier-turned-armed-robber-turned-gay-policeman Callum has had more personality transplants than Ben has had faces.

But perhaps that’s the point? Cruel people can be victims too. However, you’d think someone at the BBC would question if it’s a point worth making within such an important storyline.

Forget the Madonna-Whore dichotomy – this is a predator-victim spin-cycle on overdrive in one of Dot's washers.

The only queer joy shown in EastEnders recently came – ironically – from Lewis when he arrived. 

He was a breath of fresh air. Unapologetically himself, witty and confident and fans loved him. 

And now he’s a vile rapist who’s been unmasked as an evil villain with all the subtly of a brick through a gay bar window.

I’m sure somewhere there will be someone inside the BBC insisting that this was to show that you can’t spot a rapist – but in reality that will be lost by the chorus of hatred about gay men being dangerous predators.

The BBC doesn’t deserve praise for tackling this issue – it is long overdue. 

Let’s not forget that this is the same BBC who wouldn’t allow previous EastEnders producer Bryan Kirkwood from covering male rape in 2010.

The criticism here is not that the BBC’s flagship soap shouldn’t have a male rape storyline – it’s that they should have done it a long time ago.

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Hollyoaks did it 20 years ago – and they did it brilliantly. And then again in 2014. And Corrie – under EastEnders’ current big boss Kate Oates – knocked it out of the park with David Platt in 2018.

None of that seemed contrived or done in an attempt to get some acclaim for a soap that has publicly struggled for too many years now.

There is no doubt that this material is giving Ben star Max Bowden the chance to flex his acting muscles and show off his range and talent.

And he will no doubt win awards – deservedly so – for his work.

But for an issues-based storyline – great acting and good scripts aren’t enough.

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EastEnders has been tainted by its cack-handed treatment of its Gray and Chantelle domestic abuse storyline.

What started off with noble intentions – ended up as a messy anti-climax that saw two people of colour and a queer woman killed off.

Hopefully bosses in Walford have learned from that – but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m not holding out much hope.

Male survivors of sexual assault deserve to be heard. They deserve to have their stories told without being used as awards-bait for a soap that should know better.

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Soaps have a responsibility – especially with issues-based storylines – to represent reality.

There is more to queer life than misery – not that anyone watching EastEnders would know that.

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