Just over a fortnight ago, I was lucky enough to be invited by the team at Hollyoaks to join them at the British Soap Awards, being filmed here in Manchester. Back in mid 2013, I had been contacted by the Channel 4 Soap's production company, Lime Pictures, to help with a groundbreaking storyline - the rape of school teacher John Paul McQueen by pupil Finn O'Connor.
I helped the writers develop the story, reading scripts and talking with researchers; talked to cast members about my own experiences of being sexually violated; and became involved in the publicity and promotion of the story, on radio, TV and in national newspapers..
I'd also had the honour of joining cast members and production company personnel at various award ceremonies where this story and the cast involved have been nominated... then had to watch them leave empty handed.
I am so genuinely proud of the effort that everyone at Hollyoaks and Channel 4 made to ensure that this wasn't just a one off ratings winner story that once aired no one mentioned again. This was a long running story of one man's silence following his experience of being raped. James Sutton and Keith Rice both gave incredible and ground breaking performances and have done more to bring the issue of the rape and sexual assault of males than most and yet, neither have found the formal recognition many say they deserve.
Which got me thinking, why haven't any of the cast walked off with a trophy and why hasn't the story been afforded those accolades?
Sat in the Palace Theatre, surrounded by soap's great and the good, watching Phillip Schofield present the 2015 British Soap Awards, I watched amongst others, the very talented Kellie Bright (Eastenders) announced as the winner of the Best Dramatic Performance, for her part in the telling of the rape of central character, Linda Carter. That struck me. What was it about that story that resulted in an award that saw the John Paul story miss out? In fact, what is it about the John Paul story at all that has resulted in no award?
Now let me be very clear, Kellie Bright's performance I'm told was outstanding and I know that my colleagues over at Rape Crisis England and Wales worked hard to support Eastenders in the delivery of this story. It will without a doubt have helped more women come forward for support as a direct result. Amazing! I have nothing but praise for them and this isn't a piece about the bitterness of defeat, but rather a piece about my interest in reflection.
For one story to be up for so many award but get none I think is really interesting.
Being 'beaten' in a categories when up against Coronation Street stalwarts Hayley and Roy Cropper, I can understand. I can even understand that some awards being purely a contest or exercise in popularity. But what does an empty shelf in the Hollyoaks trophy cabinet ultimately lead me to believe? Is the story of the rape of a male is still too difficult to judge? Or is it that the story of the rape of a male is judged as being unpopular? Maybe neither? Maybe I'm looking to deep into this when there is nothing there? But maybe there is.
The impact of Hollyoaks creating this story and Channel 4 having the balls to air it at 6.30pm in the week has been felt right across the UK. From the change in attitudes of hordes of young people who originally took to social media in horror on the press announcement that this story would go ahead and later returned to praise the cast and engage in some of the most incredible conversation and healthy debate on the sexual abuse of males; to the Ministry of Justice's Announcement of the first ever dedicated support fund of over £1.2 million for services working specifically with males; right through to the personal stories told in our counselling room by the men who have stepped forward because they'd heard our name mentioned in the press in relation to this story or had been triggered by what happened to John Paul and recognised his behaviour in being silent similar to their own.
Silence has been broken and maybe that's the true recognition - awarding someone the ability to speak out because of what you have created in half an hour on a soap.
Congratulations Hollyoaks, you are amazing.