Soap star Louisa Clein has praised Emmerdale for its “brave” decision to air a controversial storyline which saw a middle-class woman groom a young boy.
Clein’s Maya Stepney bowed out of the ITV soap in June after being at the centre of a storyline in which she abused 15-year-old Jacob Gallagher (Joe-Warren Plant).
Speaking on the red carpet at the Inside Soap Awards in London, she told the PA news agency it was important the flip people’s preconception about grooming on its head.
She said: “We were very conscious of the responsibility we had to highlight this style of grooming. The word grooming often evokes dirty old men and vulnerable girls.
“We decided to tell the story of a respectable middle-class woman in a position of responsibility, who takes advantage of a secure, happy boy.
“And how he can’t quite understand his vulnerability and subsequently his abuse. We had that responsibility.”
Clein won two gongs, Best Shock Twist and Best Bad Girl, for her portrayal of the troubled teacher.
Viewers have praised the way the soap tackled the subject although many said the scenes between Maya and Jacob were uncomfortable to watch.
The cast and crew met children’s charity Barnardo’s for advice on the plot, and the organisation arranged for them to meet young survivors of sexual abuse.
Clein added: “There was of course the inevitable reaction of people saying, ‘oh get in there lad, older woman’. But actually, it is abuse. We need to make people aware that it is not a joke. It’s abuse.
“It feels great that we have been recognised, that the show has been recognised, for the story. Because it was brave of Emmerdale to tell this story. It was a risk. And I’m so glad they pulled it off.”