Coronation Street’s Lucy Fallon has said she was spurred on to do a good job with the soap’s “difficult” sex grooming storyline after speaking to real-life survivors.
She has also hit back at critics who say the harrowing narrative should not be aired in the pre-watershed programme, saying that they need to target young people who may be affected by such online abuse.
The actress plays Bethany Platt, a 16-year-old who is dating a much older man, Nathan Curtis (Chris Harper), and is being groomed and sexually exploited by him in order for him to pimp her out to his friends.
The 21-year-old told ITV’s Loose Women that she is “determined” to do the storyline justice, and often thinks of those young people she met while researching the storyline when she is acting out the scenes.
She said: “I’ve got a lot of people who support me, but there is no real way you can cope with doing those scenes.
“We spoke to the NSPCC and we spoke to somebody who told us her story and speaking to her made me so determined to do it right.
“If I am finding it difficult, I think about that and think about her, it takes away how I’m feeling and more about how she would be feeling.”
Lucy explained that the girl had been groomed online from the age of 10, by a man who was much older, and that they met when she was 13 after he told her he had a brain tumour and that his “dying wish” was to meet her.
Lucy said: “From then on, he sexually abused her and raped her. Hearing that was horrific and it was really upsetting, but that has just made me so determined to do it right.
“There are so many people, so many survivors, it’s crazy to think there are so many people this has happened to, and so many going through this at the moment.”
The actress warned of the dangers of social media, where predators find their victims, and urged young people to “trust your gut” if they feel something is not right.
Of those who criticise the plot being aired in the early evening, she said: “I’ve seen on Twitter there are a lot of fans and fanpages who are 14, or around that age, and they’re the people we want to target.
“So people that are saying it shouldn’t be on at this time, it’s important it’s on at this time so we target those people.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said in a statement, following Lucy’s appearance: “Our Be Safe Guide gives parents vital advice about what signs to look out for if they’re worried a child may be being groomed and exploited.
“Our specialist services support thousands of children who are at risk of, or have been sexually exploited by men and women, to rebuild their lives in what is often a slow and painful process.
“We must all work together to stop this terrible crime.”