A Burton charity which helps victims of rape and sexual abuse has praised a popular actress who called for people to talk more openly about curbing sexual violence, as she discussed her character's rape ordeal in top period drama Downton Abbey.
Yorkshire born actress Joanne Froggatt, who also plays the lead character who alleges rape in new ITV drama 'Liar' has said she was shocked that the scene in the show in which her character Anna the maid was brutally attacked triggered outage from viewers and made the news headlines.
Now Tracey Hardie, who is the chief executive of Sarac, which works to help victims of abuse has spoken of the importance of addressing the taboo in high profile television programmes. She says shows like Downton has seen more people plucking up the courage to pick up the phone and report their own experiences.
Joanne, who played household maid Anna Smith in the period drama, told the Radio Times magazine that she "didn't expect that scene to be so controversial".
She said: "I suppose people didn't expect a show like Downton to tackle the subject of rape. You don't see too much of those sorts of things in period drama.
"But sexual violence against women is a horrific thing and the fact that the press and audiences seemed shocked, shocked me. I don't know why as a society we find that subject so shocking to talk about. The more we talk about it, the better."
Ms Hardie, said programmes like Downton Abbey and top soap opera Coronation Street have always been depicting events from real life. She said: "Rape and sexual attacks are real life events and have always been."
She said: "I recognise that it can impact people who would rather not think about it, and that it does sometimes offend and upset some, but programme makers do give these storylines careful consideration, are careful to warn viewers, they provide after care and actors and writers wish to portray the stories as true to reality as is possible in drama form
"They are also responding to demand as there is a demand from their audiences for more gritty and shocking storylines than there were 30 years ago.
"As long as they continue to include rape in their programmes in a responsible manner; if that enables people to be more socially aware and victims to seek the specialist support from agencies like Sarac, then I believe that more good than harm is coming from it.
"The media, news reporting, especially about celebrities and TV dramas and documentaries have had more impact than the long standing campaigns driven by charities and the police have ever managed to do.
"The result is that more and more people seek support and take action, with more than half of our referrals coming from people who call us of their own accord, wanting to come to terms with what has happened to them. Anything that makes this more likely has to be a good thing."
Ms Hardie said Sarac has seen referrals soar in the last year by more than half, which she admits is "typical of rape crisis centres across the UK".
She said: "We have all responded to the highest ever number of helpline calls during 2016-17. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year; that is roughly 11 rapes in adults every hour.
"One in five women aged between 16 and 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16, however only around 15 per cent choose to report to the police, while approximately 90 per cent know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
"I believe it is partly due to drama’s like Downton, Broadchurch, Coronation Street and the new TV Programme ‘Liar’ that people are beginning to accept this crime and how huge a problem it is in our society, and we all have a responsibility to stop treating it as a taboo subject so that people can seek help without any shame.
"Still however, many don't speak about what has happened to them and this is mainly due to how they will be responded to by others around them.
"This is where I feel that programmes can and perhaps are having the biggest positive impact when depicting rape story lines. They show us the unique reactions the crime of rape evokes and makes us each question this as well as our own reactions.
"I think a lot more harm is done by the comments some make on social media following the programmes and these comments are uncensored and are not carefully considered, such as people who responded to Downton’s story line with anger because of the character chosen to suffer the attack because 'she was well known, popular and liked' also, of cours,e there are the more overtly cruel comments too.
"The message here is that if they were going to have this story line make it with someone less popular and this shouldn’t have mattered. The truth is, it can and does happen to anyone, not certain types or levels or backgrounds or popularity of people. In this aspect, we can all be responsible and considerate, so it’s not only the programme makers that should be held accountable, we are all accountable too.
"Many people are becoming very aware and wise about this issue, we have fantastic supporters who are far more aware than ever before and more likely to feel proud that they are involved than want to keep it a secret as was the case not so many years ago.
"Most of us know that there is no place for creating shame where there shouldn’t be, or thinking some deserve to suffer more than others and we want to live in a society where victim blame or shame is no longer tolerated.
"These storylines are helping; they are making us think about the unthinkable and then change for the better will happen."
Sarac is looking for people who wish to support it by helping it to raise funds, anyone interested should call the helpline on: 01283 517185 and visit www.sarac.org.uk for more information.
What is Sarac?
Sarac (Sexual abuse rape advice centre) was set up in 1994 by a group of local women who were appalled at the lack of support for people dealing with the aftermath of childhood and adulthood sexual abuse and rape.
It is a developing charity which offers bespoke services for males and females over the age of 11, leading to a reduction in the suffering caused by the effects of sexual abuse and rape.
Sarac’s service users present with a range of issues that stem from sexual abuse, many of which are self-referrals.