“I’m honoured to be given this opportunity to tell such an important story,” says Max Bowden.
EastEnders has confirmed that it will feature a storyline about male rape.
The Sun reports that Ben Mitchell will be raped by bartender Lewis Butler, who has befriended Ben in recent weeks, and that the storyline will air from next month.
EastEnders is working with charities including Survivors UK, Survivors Manchester and the Male Survivors Partnership to make sure that the storyline is covered as sensitively as possible.
Max Bowden, who plays Ben, said: “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.”
“Ben has endured a traumatic time after witnessing a homophobic attack on Callum that brought back painful memories of losing Paul,” added the BBC’s head of continuing drama, Kate Oates.
“As a result, Ben lost his way in life… which is when he found Lewis. Ben finds Lewis attractive, and thinks of him as a someone who can understand him in a way Callum does not; but that trust is abused when Lewis crosses a line and rapes Ben.
“Through this story, we hope to explore issues of consent, sexual identity, masculinity, and sexual assault, focusing on how this fateful night impacts Ben and those who love him over the coming months.”
Recent research by SurvivorsUK found that almost half of gay and bisexual men had been sexually assaulted, and of those who reported experiencing sexual violence, 37% felt that they couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened.
The full report, titled Silenced Survivors, was published last year and considers gay and bisexual men’s experiences of sexual violence in the UK.
“Almost all of us will know a man who has been sexually assaulted at some point, but a huge number of male survivors still don’t feel there’s a space for them to come forward,” said SurvivorsUK’s spokesperson Marta Almeida.
“Storylines like this one are an amazing opportunity to explore the reality for so many men, families and communities up and down the UK.”
Alex Feis-Bryce, who is a trustee of the Male Survivors Partnership, welcomed the “really important” story, saying: “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.”
Survivors Manchester’s CEO Duncan Craig added: “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.
“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 also thanked EastEnders “for giving male survivors a platform, a voice, and a moment in time to be seen when many are looking the other way”.