The Croydon centre of the Rape Crisis charity experienced an 800% increase in calls this week following a controversial storyline on Coronation Street.
The charity’s flagship centre in South London, which runs a national helpline for victims, took a record number of calls in response to the rape last week of the character Carla Connor by her husband-to-be Frank Foster after she called off their wedding.
Extra volunteers at the Croydon centre were brought in to help deal with the volume of calls.
Having received criticism before transmission for being shown pre-watershed, the storyline was commended by the Croydon Rape Crisis.
Helpline Coordinator Rosa Knight said: “Though other programmes have run similar storylines, the response for the Coronation Street storyline has been like nothing we’ve experienced before.
“It is so important for mainstream shows to tackle these important issues in a well-researched way and it appears the programme makers worked hard to do just that.”
In an interview with South West Londoner, Coronation Street Producer Phil Collinson said he is pleased with such a positive response, although stories are always character-driven and the show’s starting point is never to attach an issue which needs to be publicised to a character.
He said: “It’s sad that so many people needed help and support, but if Carla’s ordeal encouraged even one person to find the strength to ask for it then I think we did a good thing.
“We never seek to highlight an issue – just tell the best story for every character. When we do touch on issues, we clearly strive to make sure our research is flawless and the depiction an accurate and truthful one,” he added.
“Soaps are the most watched dramas on television and we take very seriously the fact that what we screen on a Monday will be landing in millions of homes and will be discussed in workplaces and households across the country.”
Mr Collinson said the St. Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester and the local police were consulted extensively during scripting and filming to make the story as realistic as possible.
He says the storyline will continue and explore just how damaging the rape is to Carla.
“Frank is a manipulative and controlling character and his raping Carla is the next chapter in a long story,” Mr Collinson explained.
“We have seen how she found the strength to report the crime, face up to Frank, try and continue in her professional life and how she finds support from her friends.
“We will also explore how the rape undermines everything she believes in and threatens to destroy her life.”
Holly Dustin, Director of the ‘End Violence Against Women’ coalition, said the media has an important role to play in raising awareness of these issues, alongside education to tackle attitudes amongst young people and public campaigns to dispel the myths around rape.
She said: “The huge increase in calls to Croydon Rape Crisis following the Coronation Street rape story indicates the scale of sexual violence and how vital such services are in supporting women to deal with its aftermath.
“We want to see clear commitments by government, local councils and other funders to invest in women’s support services over the long-term.”
The national Rape Crisis helpline is 0808 802 9999 and victims of sexual abuse can also visit www.rapecrisis.org.uk for counselling and support.