By Sonia Elks
LONDON, April 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — British soap opera Coronation Street has begun a storyline on modern slavery on Monday, highlighting the plight of tens of thousands trapped in abusive work conditions across the country.
Campaigners and slavery survivors have praised the storyline, which revolves around a nail salon worker trafficked by an Eastern European slavery ring, for showing a realistic image of the crime and raising awareness among viewers.
"Modern slavery looks really different to the common perception of it," said a former trafficking victim, identified only as J, who advised producers on the show and the actress playing the victim.
"It might challenge people's idea of what trafficking is — if it can happen in Coronation Street it can happen anywhere."
Coronation Street has been running since 1960 and shows working-class communities in the fictional northern English town of Weatherfield. It is among Britain's most popular soap operas, with millions tuning in each week.
The modern slavery storyline will see regular character Seb Franklin, played by Harry Visinoni, fall for a nail salon worker Alina, played by Romanian actress Ruxandra Porojnicu, only to gradually discover she is a victim of a human trafficking ring.
"We are keen to highlight that slavery hides in plain sight," said show producer Colin McLeod in a statement.
"Our research has shown us that in many towns and cities across Britain, people are being forced to work against their will, living in extreme poverty and in fear for their safety, all so ruthless criminal gangs can get rich at their expense."
Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation, many of whom work in businesses ranging from nail bars to hand car washes to farms.
Writers on the show consulted the Salvation Army charity, which supports modern slavery survivors and set up the meeting with J.
J said the soap would show how coercive control could be used to trap victims in modern slavery, contrary to popular views of victims as physically restrained and visibly abused.
"A lot of people get their nails done and it will help them look out for signs [of abuse] and understand how it is so close to home," she added.
Another British soap opera, EastEnders, has also tackled the topic of modern slavery recently. That plotline followed Ben Mitchell, played by Max Bowden, as he became involved with a slavery ring and helped to smuggle trafficked women.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)