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Exclusive: Hollyoaks writer Jessica Lea talks John Paul, Finn rape storyline

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John Paul McQueen at work at Hollyoaks High

© Lime Pictures

John Paul McQueen


Hollyoaks is exploring the issue of male rape this week as a dark storyline sees 16-year-old schoolboy Finn O'Connor (Keith Rice) sexually assault his teacher John Paul McQueen (James Sutton).

Show bosses have been planning the story for over a year, due to the extensive research required to portray the issue accurately and sensitively.

For further insight into the plot, Digital Spy recently caught up with Hollyoaks scriptwriter Jessica Lea, who penned the attack episode and the episode dealing with the immediate aftermath for John Paul and Finn.

How did you feel about having the responsibility of writing these two episodes?
"I can only hope that the viewers think I've done the story justice and that it helps anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to John Paul. We've been building towards this rape storyline for over 12 months so it meant a lot to be trusted to write the episodes."

Can you tell us about the research that you and the rest of the Hollyoaks team put into the storyline?
"The research has been a six-month project in itself and is still ongoing. We have researchers on the show who pass the information to us. They spoke at length to Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester as well as Survivors UK, and also used case studies of survivor experience and consulted theoretical models of offender behaviour. Stonewall helped too, providing information on the homophobic bullying of teachers.

"For the scenes on Friday, after John Paul has reported the attack, I studied DVDs from St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre, which give an insight into a patient's experience there.

"I also watched an excellent BBC documentary, The Unspeakable Crime: Rape, which depicted one woman's journey from reporting the crime to seeing the rapist jailed - seemingly against all odds. She was wearing a pair of new, expensive shoes when she was raped on a night out and these had been kept by the police as evidence. The film ends with her reclaiming the shoes and her life back, having come through the other side. It was very moving."

James Sutton as John Paul McQueen in Hollyoaks

© Lime Pictures

James Sutton plays John Paul


What were the main differences between writing these scripts and writing an ordinary Hollyoaks script for an everyday episode?
"The writing process stayed the same, but personally I felt more pressure to send out the right message. Survivors also read my scripts and let me know if they felt there were more realistic responses to be had from John Paul. Their feedback was invaluable."

As a writer, how challenging was it to explore the issue of male rape in the 6.30pm timeslot?
"It's tricky, but I'm glad we chose the keep it in the 6.30 show instead of looking for a late night transmission because it's so integral to the characters' stories."

Did you need much time with the cast to discuss the script, or was that left to the producers and the research team?
"[Executive producer] Bryan Kirkwood spoke to the actors at length when this story was conceived and right up until filming. I went along to the shoot whenever I was able, purely because of my own investment in the episodes."

What were the main things that the organisations you worked with requested to be included in the scripts?
"I think everyone was keen to shatter the common myths surrounding male rape. Primarily that this act reflects on Finn's sexuality - he 'must be gay' - when in fact the majority of sexual assaults against men are committed by heterosexual men. It's all about power, not sexual desire. Anyone at all can find themselves being overpowered, be it physically or psychologically and the suggestion that this isn't the case can discourage survivors from reporting the crime."

We've heard in other interviews how rape victims can be paralysed by fear and unable to fight off an attacker. As it's something many people are unaware of, is this directly explained in the scripts?
"Not in my scripts this week as John Paul isn't able to put his experience into words yet - he's still in shock. Finn stuns him physically before the attack but exactly what he went through during it will emerge further down the line."

Keith Rice as Finn O'Connor in Hollyoaks

© Lime Pictures

Keith Rice plays Finn


What do you think of the decision to explore this issue in a show like Hollyoaks, and what kind of an impact are you hoping the story will have?
"Last year I wrote an episode where Esther took an overdose to try to end her life and afterwards there was a substantial increase in calls from young people to Papyrus and HOPEline UK, who are working to prevent teen suicide. This was really the best news we could have received, because telling someone is the best thing you can do if you're feeling desperate.

"I hope this rape storyline can work towards changing attitudes but above all, that it sends people in the right direction if they've suffered something similar and makes them realise they're not alone."

Have you been able to watch back your episodes yet and if so, are you pleased with the finished product?
"Yes, I've seen both and think the director, Matt Holt, has done a great job. The performances from James and Keith are very emotional - it all feels very truthful. I hope the viewers agree."

Have you written any other episodes for this storyline, and can fans expect the aftermath to be long-running?
"Yes, to both. John Paul and Finn are walking around with these burning secrets. The implications of Finn's actions are far-reaching - everyone close to him will be affected."

What do you think this storyline means for Finn's future in Hollyoaks? Can he still have a place in the show after what he's done?
"The morality of the show dictates that Finn must pay for his crimes in the long term, but this doesn't automatically exclude him forever. What I think is important about this storyline is that we're also invested in the perpetrator and his family. The stigma of having a rapist in the family means that in a sense, Diane, Sinead and Tony will pay for his crime too."

The focus of the story is naturally changing to Finn and John Paul, but can you tell us anything about Robbie's role in the aftermath? Do you share the views of the fans that he also needs a comeuppance?
"Yes, definitely. Although Robbie has nothing to do with the rape itself, his role in all of this is crucial. He's taunted and belittled Finn to a point where - in his own distorted sense of reality - he feels the need to assert this violent power over John Paul. We see how bullying breeds bullying. Robbie needs to own up to his involvement and redeem himself or suffer the consequences."

Hollyoaks plans male rape storyline for John Paul McQueen
Hollyoaks: Keith Rice on male rape storyline, Finn's future
Hollyoaks: James Sutton on John Paul bullying plot, male rape story
Hollyoaks male rape storyline: Expert Q&A with advisor Duncan Craig
Read more Hollyoaks news and spoilers

Survivors Manchester is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. Its website can be found at www.survivorsmanchester.org.uk and its helpline is 0161 236 2182. Local support agencies for all male and female survivors can be found at www.thesurvivorstrust.org. In an emergency, please dial 999.

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