It’s no surprise that Ofcom has been flooded with complaints following last night’s double Emmerdale episode which depicted an acid attack against Ross Barton – the scenes were genuinely distressing to watch and I won’t condemn anyone who felt that they were a bit much. However, I am firmly of the stance that despite it being a tough watch for us at home, Emmerdale were 100% right both to run the story in the first place and to show the full horror of what happened.
According to police statistics released at the end of last year, the UK is one of the most prevalent countries in the world for acid attacks, with an average of two reports of attacks made to police every single day. More worrying still is that police firmly believe that this figure will grow.
We have all seen the news stories and none of us can possibly imagine the consequences and trauma for the victims of this deplorable and frankly terrifying crime. It is a genuine reality now in modern Britain that this is happening on our doorstep – often without any provocation.
Soaps are predominantly entertainment brands but there is no denying that with prominent timeslots in the schedules and audiences of millions, that they have a moral and social responsibility.
Soaps have a unique platform to portray real and important issues on fictional characters that we are so familiar with that we feel like we know them. While these issues are often expertly portrayed in 9pm dramas and documentaries – there have been some television triumphs of late – soaps approach it in a way that is effective in a manner only possible for a serial drama.
A six part drama will introduce us to characters and tell their full arc in six hours whereas when we see characters we have known sometimes for decades confronted with an issue that any of us could one day face, it hits home. And that’s why there are complaints – it makes one hell of an impact.
But in this scenario, it is a good thing. Many people are unaware of how serious an issue acid attacks are in the UK but seeing what happened to Ross and feeling sickened by his piercing and haunting screams educates on the severity. It not only shows the public how serious this is but for any falling into crowds where serious crimes like this can occur, it makes it clear just what the ramifications are to do something so deplorable.
Some fear that by shining a light on the issue, Emmerdale may risk triggering copycat crimes but this was by no means an education in how to carry out an acid attack. We didn’t see Simon preparing to do it, purchasing the acid and nor do we know what he used against Ross. And nor should we. That’s not important or necessary.
The scenes focused on what this actually did to Ross and, even more importantly, what steps Graham Foster took to try and help. It showed clearly that Graham removed clothing from Ross and then doused his face in water, also calling an ambulance.
And then it focused on the treatment of Ross in hospital, with Emmerdale very careful to reflect the procedures of the NHS.
A spokesperson from the show explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘Emmerdale has a long track record of tackling difficult and topical storylines and the unprovoked acid attack upon Ross is another example of this. We take our responsibility seriously when portraying what happens in these circumstances. Consequently, the storyline was researched thoroughly with medical experts at Pinderfields Hospital.
‘For the sequence following Ross’s attack we adhered carefully to the NHS guidelines about how to help people who are the victim of an acid attack. We also specifically researched this story with one particular victim who felt it important to share what happened to him with the Emmerdale production team.’
Emmerdale have piled the research into this and it is our understanding from when rumours of the story first reached us that this has been intricately planned for over a year before it reached our screens.
Emmerdale has become the country's no 1. Soap because of its willingness to take risks with its story lines. Many will not be aware of the evil of acid attacks other than newspaper headlines. This story will be grim. But the right research will have been done.
— Zachary B. (@LeedsZac) February 9, 2018
I agree, Emmerdale issued the appropriate warnings before the scenes aired and they provided important information in what to do to help someone who is the victim of an acid attack. I’m glad Emmerdale are doing this storyline
— Lovely Aaron (@Lovelyaaron2) February 9, 2018
Not surprised but I thought @emmerdale handled it brilliantly and showed when it comes to tackling sensitive subjects like this they are in a league of their own
— Kristina Dawson (@krissy100283) February 9, 2018
Emmerdale have been brave in tackling this – there is a huge pressure on them now to get the aftermath right. This is something that must change a character forever. And that’s a big thing – Ross is an alpha male, cheeky, good looking, often cocky central character to the show. To select him for a story like this is a bold move and the focus will need to be on how this will affect him both physically and mentally over months and even years.
It’s something that I know Emmerdale can do. They have portrayed storylines such as child abuse, cot death, rape and serious illness with great sensitivity and care in the past and I have no doubt that they will do the same for this one.
The acid attack itself was horrible to watch and the aftermath could be even worse as we see how it devastates Ross. This is in no small part due to the acting capabilities of Mike Parr, who was extraordinary in his scenes. Ross is a popular character but even those who were not fans couldn’t fail to be moved and distraught for Ross’ predicament. Mike will do this story justice and I know from speaking to him from even before the story was confirmed that he has been working extremely hard in preparing for this. He takes it very seriously.
The complaints have come because Emmerdale portrayed it so realistically – but with a story like this, the show would be doing it a disservice not to fully confront it. And while it isn’t easy for us to watch, I can only commend the show for using its platform to highlight one of the UK’s most terrifying modern issues.