Spotlight behind Hollyoaks sibling sexual abuse (SSA) storyline

For this blog, we're joined by Tanith McCulloch, SARSAS Sibling Sexual Abuse Project Officer, as we go behind the scenes (and the screens!) to talk about our decision to work with Hollyoaks to help bring the message of sibling sexual abuse to a brand new audience.

This groundbreaking storyline focuses on the characters of Jack Junior (JJ) and Frankie Osborne. As the story unfolds, we learn that the abuse Frankie suffered at the hands of her twin brother, JJ, when they were both younger, has recently started up again.

How did SARSAS get involved with Hollyoaks?

Hollyoaks approached us after seeing the work we had completed on the National Project on Sibling Sexual Abuse. They had wanted to cover this storyline for a while but hadn’t previously had the characters within the soap to carry it out. When they were contemplating re-introducing the Osborne twins (Frankie and JJ) into the show, they saw a great opportunity to highlight this ‘hidden taboo’ that is often never discussed within families, professionals, and society.

What was the process from there?

We met with the producer, researchers, and scriptwriters. I remember the first conversation vividly. At the start, we were all very apprehensive, excited, and understandably cautious. This has never been covered or portrayed accurately in the media. Therefore, we all knew what a huge responsibility it would be to ensure that it was handled ethically, sensitively, and with as much authenticity as possible.

We then introduced the researchers and scriptwriters to survivors of SSA, family members who had been impacted, and a sibling who had abused their other sibling. In doing this, we wanted to make sure that their voices and experiences were heard and that we were all doing the storyline as much justice as possible.

A gril with long dark hair and a blue jumper is looking solemnly into the camera. A boy of the same age is standing behind looking intently at her. Three other adults are further back looking at both of them.
The Osborne family (Hollyoaks)

What was your favourite part of working with the Hollyoaks team?

The teams’ openness to ideas. Every conversation was invigorating, productive and yet challenging at times. We would work closely together and thrash out ideas, discuss the impacts on survivors, risks of re-traumatisation, and key messages. They really did their due diligence and were so empathetic and respectful, wanting to give this storyline the justice it deserves.

Hollyoaks had survivors at the forefront throughout every step of the process. It has been such a privilege and hugely rewarding working with the Hollyoaks team. They would send over scripts and arrange meetings to discuss ideas at key points of the storyline. It was such a collaborative process, and we at SARSAS felt very invested, listened to, and that our expertise was respected.

Our research, story, script and writing teams have devoted themselves to telling this story truthfully and passionately. Huge thanks goes to SARSAS for their unwavering support in helping us take this on.
Hannah Cheers, Hollyoaks Executive Producer

Why do you think this storyline is important right now?

SSA is the most common form of intra-familial abuse, yet it still remains the most under-reported, under-represented, and under-researched form of child sexual abuse (CSA). There has been much more awareness and recognition of SSA by professionals. However, we need to expand society’s awareness and recognition.

We need to reach a wider audience, and Hollyoaks has that reach. They have a multi-generational audience, so covering this storyline means they can encourage those currently experiencing SSA to come forward rather than suffer in silence. Survivors know where they can go for support, families are encouraged to acknowledge and address this to minimise life-long serve detrimental impacts, and it encourages dialogue within society as a whole.  

What’s your message to victim-survivors of SSA who might be watching the storyline play out?

We carefully weighed up the balance of shining a light on the subject and being able to reach a new, large, younger audience vs. recognising the limitations of a soap or fictional story and that every experience of SSA is unique. We hope that even if you can’t recognise yourself in the story or the characters, that you’ll recognise the importance of it raising awareness about the subject.

SSA involves both touching and non-touching behaviours. It can involve penetration but doesn’t always, that does not mean it wasn’t abusive. It can happen between any gender and any age disparity. This is so multi-faceted. If you feel you have been victimised in any way, then it may have been abuse you experienced. It is more than innocent play, such as ‘doctors and nurses’, between siblings.

Sibling Sexual Abuse (SSA) website

We appreciate how challenging and re-triggering this storyline may be to watch or even hear it being spoken about. Please ensure you practice some self-care and surround yourself with a supportive network. You might also like to visit our new website which has been created by and for survivors of SSA – siblingsexualabusesupport.org

You are not ALONE, we SEE you, we HEAR you and we BELIEVE you.

SARSAS Sibling Sexual Abuse website

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