AARON Sandford will prey upon a drunk Amy Barlow in harrowing scenes next week.
As a rape survivor myself, here's why the new Coronation Street storyline is so important when it comes to starting conversations.
Corrie boss Iain MacLeod teased the upcoming plot on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, during an appearance on ITV's Loose Women.
Spoilers have since confirmed that Aaron Sandford, portrayed by James Craven, is due to rape Amy Barlow (Elle Mulvaney) following a row with girlfriend Summer Spellman.
The pair will start off by playing drinking games before moving things to the bedroom.
But when the sexual chemistry leads to them kissing, Aaron ignores his new flatmate's drunken state.
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A war on rape clichés
I have to admit – when the storyline was first announced and I had just managed to skim through a handful of articles about it, I was filled with dread.
I read about how Aaron and Amy would have "non-consensual sex" in upcoming scenes of the Manchester-based program and immediately felt nauseous.
"Non-consensual sex" doesn't exist. If consent isn't shared, it's rape or, at the very least, sexual assault.
But when I read further into how the storyline would pan out, I became hopeful this wouldn't just be another triggering plot aired for the sake of drama.
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I instantly saw that Corrie bosses were declaring war on clichés surrounding rape and violence against women with the scenes between flatmates and friends, Amy and Aaron.
For decades, mainstream media seemed to believe that women could only be taken advantage of by a stranger they'd never encountered before in some dark, desolate location like an alleyway.
We desperately needed a reality check.
According to American organisation RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), "8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim."
Less than half of these rapes (39%) are committed by an acquaintance and 33% of these are committed by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
In the UK, and according to charity Rape Crisis England & Wales, one in two rapes against women is carried out by their partner or ex-partner while 5 out of 6 rapes against women are committed by someone they already know.
By showing Aaron violate Amy, soap bosses are underlining the fact that danger can come from someone a woman may be familiar with, someone they once felt safe enough living with.
As a woman, I've experienced cat-calling in the streets and groping in bars, clubs and pubs.
But it wasn't until a few years ago, that I was reminded that the men closest to me could sometimes do the worst.
I was raped by a former partner I thought I knew with whom I shared a serious relationship.
He was once my friend and he watched me grow into the woman I am today – which made it impossible for me to admit he had violated me.
After months of denial, I finally told my story to friends only to be told I was wrong or lying and that he would "never do such a thing."
By making Aaron commit one of the most hateful crimes against women, soap bosses are willing to show the harsh reality that any man is, unfortunately, capable of rape.
It's a bleak reminder to anybody defending a man accused of rape that dismissing their ability to violate a woman at the expense of her mental health comes at a price, despite how well we think we know these men.
My former partner wasn't the first man to attack me and he sadly wasn't the last.
But due to these experiences as a woman, I can definitely assure you – dark and desolate streets once felt safer to me than my own home.
No black and white, only grey
Robin Thicke and his hit song "Blurred Lines" first made me wonder why something as straightforward as consent should have any grey areas.
Despite an extensive video on consent distributed by Thames Valley Police, some people still struggle to understand the true meaning of consent or even what it sounds and looks like.
Upon reading about Amy's upcoming storyline, I understood that Coronation Street was finally ready to tackle these "blurred lines."
Spoilers have confirmed that Amy, as mentioned above, will be sharing drinks with Aaron before kissing him and taking things to a more intimate level.
But she soon feels sick, which doesn't stop Aaron as he proceeds to rape her, leaving the teen to realise what has happened the morning after.
In my case, I have often been told I couldn't have been raped because I hadn't explicitly said "no."
Yet, to me, repeating that I was exhausted from a hard day's work should have been enough for him to back off and let me sleep.
I was told my attack wasn't rape because I hadn't fought him or pushed him off of me, because I had been kissing him minutes prior.
I was told I must have wanted to have intercourse and was simply in denial about it, ready to get revenge after our breakup.
Amy's storyline brings me comfort as it highlights the fact that consent can be retracted at any point, despite previous circumstances.
A kiss, being drunk or non-responsive to a man's (or anyone's) advances NEVER means consent.
As explained by RAINN, "consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.
"Consent should be clearly and freely communicated. A verbal and affirmative expression of consent can help both you and your partner to understand and respect each other’s boundaries.
"Consent cannot be given by individuals who are underage, intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or asleep or unconscious."
In other words, anything that is not blatant desire or a "yes" is a resounding "no."
Crying, feeling sick, being asleep, silent or drunk is NEVER an invitation for any sexual activity.
I spent many months thinking I must have given consent by not saying "no", until I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
My therapist recommended a book which finally helped me put the word "rape" on what had been done to me – The Body Keeps The Score.
In this pioneering book about traumatic stress, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk underlines four different responses to traumatic experiences.
The first – the fight response – is one's way of facing any perceived threat aggressively.
Some may respond to a threat with a flight response, with their body urging them to run from danger.
Others may simply freeze, unable to react or move against a threat.
Finally, potential victims of traumatic experiences may find it best to fawn, in other words, to try and please somebody to avoid conflict.
This response is common in people suffering from C-PTSD, according to experts.
To top it all off, neurodivergent or autistic people often struggle with social cues, making it difficult for them to express disagreement or differentiate between normal actions in a friendship or relationship and clear signs they are being taking advantage of – thus making the notion of consent even harder to grasp.
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Giving a voice to the silent
While Amy Barlow's storyline will be an on-screen wake-up call, it reminded me of a very real case that occurred in late 2017.
In January, 2018, Babe.net reporter Katie Way gave Brooklyn-based photographer "Grace" the chance to talk about her experience with acclaimed comedian and actor Aziz Ansari.
Grace's first Emmy Award encounter with the star led to her going on a date with him – which reportedly escalated into sexual misconduct.
She alleged that Aziz Ansari pressured her into oral sex before suggesting they take things to another level, despite her showing no interest.
"I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored," she told Babe.net.
"I said 'I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.'"
She had then shown screenshots of a text message exchange between her and Aziz Ansari, writing: "I just want to take this moment to make you aware of this behaviour and how uneasy it made me."
The accusation caused a rift in Hollywood, with many believing Aziz Ansari had done nothing wrong, and the discussion eventually led to the question of consent, as elaborated on above.
"Our standard for sexual behaviour has to be more than what’s legal or illegal — it needs to be about what’s right," feminist author and The Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti tweeted in the wake of the accusation.
"Why are so many people asking why this woman didn't leave and so few asking why he didn't stop?"
Aziz Ansari responded to Grace's allegation with a statement given to People.
"In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.
"The next day, I got a text from her saying that although ‘it may have seemed OK’, upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem OK to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
“I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”
More than five years have passed since the Aziz Ansari allegation came to light but weeks before Amy Barlow's storyline airs, I was reminded that the notion of consent is still a real-life issue, even in 2023.
The storyline hits very close to home, not only because of my own experiences, but also due to a recent ordeal I was made aware of by someone close to me.
In early February, after "catching up with an old friend " she had not seen in a while, "Sara" awoke in the middle of the night "being sexually assaulted on more than one occasion."
The man, who shall remain unnamed, was "an old friend" and Sara had worked under him at a bar.
"We had not seen each other in more than seven years, and our meeting was an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and rekindle our friendship after losing contact for so long," Sara bravely told The Sun.
When speaking about her ordeal, Sara is transparent about the harm it has done to her mental health – a reminder of the damage rape and sexual assault can do to survivors in the long-run.
"I am not coping well at all. My brain is constantly fighting the urge to emotively react to what happened, and I am having to focus a lot on distracting myself, to try and forget the events."
"My moods are constantly up and down, my brain is mentally exhausted, and I feel like I am constantly attempting to extinguish a flame that refuses to be dampened."
Sara added: "I haven’t slept properly since the incident, and when I do get to sleep, I am constantly woken with night terrors, reliving the events that have happened."
The impact of her assault was made even stronger when she realised how close she had once been to her attacker.
"I feel ultimately betrayed, and confused that someone who (in their own words) 'believed something more could blossom between us than friendship' would do something like this.
"I am angry that given the person knew me so well, they felt they had the right to not only violate my body, but violate me mentally and put out my spark.
"I am angry that a person who supposedly cares would strip me of everything mentally."
Despite her struggle, and due to open discussions about her ordeal with the people closest to her, Sara keeps an open mind to the lessons her attack brings her.
"I am not at fault for what has happened, and it does not define my worth, my value, or make me a bad person," she said.
"I am not ashamed of what has happened, as I have no reason to be. The person that did this is the only one at fault, not me."
Sara's case is still under review by CPS.
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Can Corrie bring peace to Sara and all other survivors of rape and sexual assault (often left silent)?
Coronation Street airs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8pm on ITV.
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