*These are my own views and not the views of the magazine I write for*
EastEnders has been brilliant so far this week. For those of you who don’t know, a character called Linda Carter (played by Kellie Bright) was raped by her husband’s nephew (actually, viewers know he’s actually her husband’s brother – but that’s not been revealed yet) – a troubled young man called Dean (played by Matt Di Angelo).
Both actors have been amazing in these episodes. Their performances have been heartbreaking and believable. The rape itself was cleverly and thoughtfully done and so shocking, even though it was shown before the watershed.
But it’s what happens next that I’m troubled by. Linda is not going to report her rape. Instead she’s going to suffer in silence, find out she’s pregnant, and the whole thing is going to come out at Christmas.
In my day job I write about soaps. I spend all day immersed in Weatherfield, Walford, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Erinsborough and Summer Bay. I know that first and foremost soaps are entertainment. Of course they are. But every now and then they cover a story that straddles a tricky path between entertaining and informing. Linda’s rape is one of those stories.
The powers that be at EastEnders know what they’re doing. When they tackle stories like this, they do their research; they talk to charities and other experts. That’s what they did in this case. But I quite firmly believe that in having Linda keep her rape a secret they’ve made a mistake.
The figures are staggering. A huge majority of women who have been raped don’t report it and I can understand that EastEnders want to reflect real life. But I fear that in showing someone keeping her rape to herself, they’re sending out the wrong message.
At the moment Linda is in shock, she’s paralysed with fear that her husband Mick (played by Danny Dyer) would hurt Dean if he finds out. She’s terrified of Dean himself and she’s desperately trying to put a brave face on things. I can completely understand that she might not tell anyone straight away.
But I think the story should follow her as she does report it. We could watch her journey – find out about the process of reporting sexual assault. Rape itself is destructive enough to make amazing drama without being made more sensational with secrets and an unwanted pregnancy. Linda’s family would still be shattered by what happened to her. Dean would still be the bad guy. But maybe they could show other women out there – the ones who are suffering in silence – that reporting a rape is the right thing to do, and perhaps not as terrifying as it’s supposed to be. And by reporting the assault, Linda could regain the control that she lost when Dean raped her.
EastEnders say if one woman comes forward to report a rape as a result of this storyline, they’ll be pleased. But I think they could – and should – set their sights much higher than that.