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Can TV scene break taboo of male rape?

THE first sexual taboo broken by TV was an openly gay character - closely followed by the first Aids death, a lesbian kiss and then incest. Now viewers of tea-time soap Hollyoaks are to see violent scenes of male rape, which producers have defended as being 'of interest and relevant'. LUCY MILES examines the stigma surrounding male rape and asked Channel 4 if the controversial storyline was just another ploy to boost ratings.

THE episode of Channel 4's hit soap Hollyoaks that shows the brutal rape of a male character has been pushed back because of its horrific content.

Channel 4 bosses are preparing for outrage after the episode is screened on Wednesday at 11pm but they stand by the storyline, which they feel will help break the taboo of male rape.

The rape scene is the conclusion of a long-running plot involving bullying of one of the show's central characters, Luke Morgan, played by Gary Lucy.

Hollyoaks creator Phil Redmond, who is also behind Brookside, justified the plot by saying 'male rape is where female rape was 20 years ago. Very few people talk about it. It is an unreported crime'.

Two versions of the attack will be screened with late-night viewers seeing the build-up to Luke's attack - his assault is not gay rape but an extreme form of bullying.

Pre-watershed viewers will be aware something has happened but exactly what and its implications will only become apparent in a storyline likely to run at least six months.

'The production team worked closely with advisers from rape-related support groups to balance the dramatic storyline with a realistic portrayal of what follows such an attack,' said series producer Jo Hallows.

'The message is about banishing taboos - telling people it's OK to talk and there are people who can help. If this episode helps one person it will have been a worthwhile exercise.'

It is estimated that one in five of all reported cases of rape or sexual assault each year involves male victims. Survivors are gay, straight or bisexual but most reported perpetrators are male.

Abuse Recovery UK, a nationwide group for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, estimates that by the age of 18 one in six men and one in four women will have suffered some form of sexual abuse.

Although official figures show that the number of reported cases of male rape is still small, it is rising. Only 504 men reported being raped last year but this was 30 per cent higher than the previous year.

'Men just can't say 'I have been raped',' said Keith Greenaway, coordinator of Central Birmingham Victim Support.

'They invariably view it as a sign of weakness and feel they should have fought back and not let another man violate them.

'In the past 10 years there has been an increase in the number of reported rapes of men.

'Male rape and domestic violence always happened but is not talked about.'

The 1994 Criminal Justice Bill and Public Order Bill made raping a man a criminal offence for the first time and now more men are coming forward with reports of rape.

But forensic psychologists and counsellors who deal with male rape victims believe the reported cases are a tiny fraction of the sexual violence perpetrated against men which, they claim, shows that many victims are still too ashamed to report it.

Previous research has shown that most male rape is perpetrated by heterosexual men and, in a similar way to female rape, is more about power and violence than sex.

Keith added: 'Men are taught to be strong so when a man finds himself the victim of a rape he finds it very difficult to come to terms with.

'It is a very big step for a man to visit a counsellor and report the incident.

'They think they will be judged. One of the biggest hurdles they have to overcome is how people will perceive them - whether their friends and family will now think they are gay, whether they asked for it, whether the way they were dressed, acted or talked somehow provoked the attack.

'I would say that men who are victims of rape face the same problems reporting the crime as women did 20 or 30 years ago. They fear they will not be understood.

'Men tend to deny they have been victims. Some men block the incident out, that is their way of coping. They cannot deal with the humiliation of male rape.

'Like female victims of rape, they also have to deal with the issue of HIV and this is one of the biggest problems for them.

'If a man is raped out of the blue, it is almost always about power,' he added. 'It has nothing at all to do with sex. The rapists just want to control.

'The problem for the victim is that they think they should have fought back but usually they react just like women do in these situations. They freeze and cannot strike out.

'There is usually a threat of violence and many perceive it to be a potentially life-threatening situation.

'Women who have been raped are told there is nothing they could have done to stop it but if you tell a man that, it goes against all they have been taught.

'So not only are we trying to deal with the actual incident but also with the stigma surrounding it and an instilled male identity.'

Keith said he welcomed Channel 4's decision to screen the Hollyoaks rape scene.

'If we can get it out in the open, on TV and in the papers, we can show victims it is not something to be ashamed of and it wasn't their fault,' he said.

Are the TV programmes breaking down sexual taboos or just chasing audience figures? What do you think? Write and tell us at Talk About, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B4 6AZ.

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Author:Miles, Lucy
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2000
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