Cor­rie Chris: I have met sex abuse vic­tims and they’ve been through hell

SOAP NEW­COMER HOPES GROOM­ING

The People - - NEWS FEATURES & - By Emma Pryer TV ED­I­TOR

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.

At­tacker

“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

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