British soap EastEnders confirms male rape storyline for gay character

Eastenders. Image: BBC

*Warning: Topics discussed in this article may be triggering for some readers*


Popular British soap EastEnders has confirmed it will feature a storyline about male rape, ten years after calling the topic ‘too difficult to cover’.


In a storyline set to air in May, viewers will see fan-favourite Ben Mitchell, played by Max Bowden, 27, become the victim of a horrific sexual assault at the hands of barman Lewis, played by 33-year-old Irish actor Aidan O’Callaghan.


Show producers have been working closely with several charities to ensure the topic is covered sensitively and properly, 10 years after BBC bosses are said to have turned down storytelling male rape topics for being ‘too difficult to cover’ during a pre-watershed soap.

Former Eastenders executive producer Bryan Kirkwood previously shared he was told to avoid the subject matter “in no uncertain terms”, according to reports. 


Hoping to raise awareness around the topic of male rape, Max, who plays Ben in the soap, 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.”


Head of continuing drama at BBC, Kate Oates, said: “Ben has endured a traumatic time after witnessing a homophobic attack on Callum that brought back painful memories of losing Paul.”

“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.”

Eastenders. Image: BBC

2021 research conducted by Survivors UK, found almost half of gay and bisexual men surveyed had been a victim of sexual assault, and of those who reported experiencing sexual violence, 37% felt that they couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened.

“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.”

Eastenders: BBC

Survivors Manchester’s CEO Duncan Craig said of the storyline: “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.”


Many fans on social media welcomed the storyline announcement, with one tweeting:  “It’s a first for #EastEnders after being denied the story 10 years ago. @MaxBowden will be incredible.”

Meanwhile others were quick to draw comparisons to rival soap Coronation Street, “For goodness sake wishes these writers would come up with something more original, this has been done before in Corrie??!!”, tweeted one viewer. 


EastEnders airs Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm on BBC One in the UK and on BBC iPlayer.