This article titled “BBC reports surge in calls to helpline after year of traumatic storylines” was written by Graham Ruddick Media editor, for The Guardian on Saturday 30th December 2017 05.31 Asia/Kolkata
More than 127,000 people contacted the BBC to enquire about support for sexual abuse victims this year after the broadcast of related storylines in high-profile dramas such as Three Girls and Apple Tree Yard.
Viewers were encouraged to get in contact with the BBC’s Action Line service if they needed support or information regarding issues in their own lives. Three Girls was based on the true story of a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale while Apple Tree Yard featured a graphic rape scene.
As well as support with sexual abuse, the BBC was contacted about LGBT domestic abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and female genital mutilation. Its helplines were contacted after regular shows such as Holby City, EastEnders and the Archers as well as one-off dramas such as Three Girls.
The total number of calls and online visits to Action Line this year was 54% higher compared with 2016, rising from 280,000 to 431,000.
Piers Wenger, the controller of BBC Drama, said the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster meant it was “uniquely placed to help audiences deal with these difficult issues”.
He said: “The BBC’s produced some outstanding drama over the past year which has really connected with audiences. It’s important that we tackle difficult subject matters and I’m pleased that through the Action Line we’ve been able to give so many people vital information, help and support.”
The BBC promotes its support services at the end of programmes that address issues that could affect the lives of viewers. The broadcaster has promoted Action Line on-air 456 times in the last 12 months.
The BBC launched its helplines in 1995, as developments in the call centre industry made such a service viable. Since then, millions of viewers and listeners have contacted Action Line. The phone service directs callers to charities and organisations than can help rather than offering people support itself, while the website provides contact details for a range of charities and organisations relevant to specific issues.
In 2016, thousands of people contacted Action Line about domestic abuse after a storyline in the Archers involved Helen Titchener being abused by her husband, Rob. A donation page inspired by the storyline to raise money for a rescue fund for women affected by domestic abuse raised more than £135,000 in seven months.
This year the Archers led to 7,024 visits to the Action Line website after the Radio 4 programme trailed its support on the issue of miscarriages. There were 3,939 calls and online visits after an episode of EastEnders referred to post-traumatic stress disorder, and 6,455 viewers sought support about issues raised in Holby City in 2017, including LGBT domestic abuse, bullying, bereavement, cancer and organ transplants.
It was not just drama that led to viewers contacting the service. The BBC2 documentaries Hospital and A Time to Live led to around 12,000 page views for Action Line information about palliative care. Imagine … She Spoke the Unspeakable, which involved Alan Yentob profiling the Egyptian author and activist Nawal El Saadawi, who survived female genital mutilation, also prompted a response: Action Line was visited more than 204 times about the issue.
How shows tackled sensitive subjects
Three Girls This three-part drama series, aired in May, was based on the true story of a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale. The hard-hitting programme was widely praised as powerful and brave but made for traumatic viewing. Action Line was promoted at the end of episodes and thousands of viewers contacted it for support and information about sexual abuse.
Apple Tree Yard Along with Three Girls, Apple Tree Yard helped to spark a wave of calls and visits to Action Line for information about sexual abuse. The first episode of the series featured a graphic rape scene involving the lead character, played by Emily Watson.
Holby City The long-running hospital drama featured a storyline in which Isaac Mayfield was mentally and physically abusing his colleague and lover, Dominic Copeland. This led to calls to Action Line about LGBT domestic abuse. Holby City has also prompted calls about bereavement, cancer and organ transplants.
The Archers When Ruth suffered a late miscarriage in February, the Archers promoted the support and information available on Action Line, leading to thousands of visits to the website. Annabelle Dowler, who plays Kirsty, said it was the most emotional storyline she has been involved with on the Radio 4 show.
Imagine … She Spoke the Unspeakable Alan Yentob’s profile of the Egyptian author and activist Nawal El Saadawi, who survived female genital mutilation, was described by the Guardian as a “timely object lesson in courage, defiance and grace under fire”. Action Line was contacted by more than 200 viewers about female genital mutilation after the programme aired.
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