Corrie Chris: I have met sex abuse victims and they’ve been through hell
SOAP NEWCOMER HOPES GROOMING
ON the Corrie cobbles, newcomer Chris Harper plays a cunning smooth talker about to tear the life of a young teenage girl apart.
Handsome tanning salon owner Nathan Curtis will lure unsuspecting schoolgirl Bethany Platt to bed this week – then set about grooming her for sex parties with other perverts.
But in reality, Chris is hoping his sinister storyline will help more terrified victims of paedophiles to come forward.
The 39-year-old actor prepared for the role by meeting abuse survivors through the NSPCC. And the shattering impact their stories had on him has only increased his determination to play the pervert to perfection.
“Nothing can desensitise you to what survivors of sexual exploitation have gone through. It’s the most important storyline I’ve ever had,” says Chris in our interview on the soap’s set.
“It’s massively important I get this right for them. We want to reach out to people to let them know help is out there, and to tell abusers they can’t get away with it.
“Half the problem is getting people to come forward. It’s been said that for every one person reporting abuse, another seven don’t.”
Since his Street debut at Christmas, when he peeled unconscious 16-year-old Bethany (Lucy Fallon) from the cobbles after she’d downed diet pills, predator Nathan has slowly wormed his way into her affections.
And what has chilled viewers is that, unlike the Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter dirty old man image, Nathan is young, good-looking and, on the surface, very well intentioned.
“The stereotype is of this older man with a sticky suit, bad hair and bad teeth,” Chris says. “But often the reality is very different. The perpetrators could be any age, any colour or class, and so can the people affected.
Last week the NSPCC introduced Chris to a child abuse victim, now 20, who has been advising the show’s writers.
Her attacker was a family man with kids, but police were unable to convict him.
Chris says: “She was just 10 when she was groomed online by a man claiming to be 21. She was very intelligent but vulnerable. Her parents were abusive to each other.
“She was very lonely so she struck up this friendship. The abuse lasted until she was 16.
“When police investigated, it was her word against his. Who would believe her against a 30-year-old father?”
Chris met another sex crime victim through Voicing CSA, another charity that helps the abused.
This was a vulnerable young woman raped by her own husband – a chilling example of the control attackers develop over their victims.
“They were together 20 years,” Chris says. “He was very successful, and charming, but gradually he stripped away her self-esteem.
“He removed her money, then her ability to make basic decisions – even picking food from a menu. They slept separately, but he would come into her room, rape her, then tell her how lucky she was to be married to such a successful businessman.”
The terrified young wife developed an eating disorder and became hooked on anti-depressants.
Chris says: “It wasn’t until something clicked that she fled. She and her daughter ran away to a hotel while her husband was at work and then the police moved them to a safe house. She’s now an inspiration to so many others.”
Two days before meeting the NSPCC, Chris attended a charity night with co-stars Kym Marsh and Simon Gregson to raise awareness of abuse.
He’s also spoken in private to friends in social services and spent hours talking to a police contact who worked closely on the case of 21-year-old pervert Alistair Spagnoletti who groomed a 17-year-old girl then lured her into having sex with hundreds of other men.
Police described it as one of the most damaging cases of sexual exploitation they had witnessed. Spagnoletti, of Luton, was one of three men jailed last August.
Chris says: “Police couldn’t get the girl to testify against him because she was so in love. Hearing about these sorts of cases makes you realise how duped and vulnerable some of these people are.” He’s been so moved by his research for the role he’s agreed to be an
ambassador for Voicing CSA and