Emmerdale producer Laura Shaw on future of Lydia's big new story

Emmerdale spoilers follow.

This story discusses topics including rape and sexual assault.

Emmerdale begins a major new storyline next week as Lydia Dingle is raped by her childhood friend Craig Reed.

Show bosses have been working closely with Rape Crisis on the plot, which begins in next Tuesday's hour-long episode (September 5).

In the aftermath of the attack, Lydia is reluctant to report what happened to the police and keeps her ordeal to herself. Despite this, family and friends start to realise that something is wrong and they grow increasingly worried about Lydia's behaviour.

Emmerdale producer Laura Shaw recently spoke to Digital Spy and other press about the show's plans for the story.

lydia dingle, emmerdale

How long has this storyline been planned for?

"We've been talking about this story for a year or so, before we actually went ahead and started storylining it. Lydia and Sam are such a brilliant couple – they're loved and adored by the audience. Lydia is such a good, moral person – real salt of the earth. We wanted a story that would test them as a couple.

"As soon as the idea of Craig raping Lydia was pitched, the whole team went almost silent around the table. Everyone was immediately interested in exploring that, but obviously, we needed a lot of time to go away and research.

"It's a hugely important topic. We needed to make sure that if we went ahead and did this, we needed to portray it as accurately and as sensitively as possible. It took quite a while after it had first been pitched while we made sure that everybody in that room felt really confident we could go ahead and start storylining it."

Can you tell us about the input from Rape Crisis?

"It's been totally invaluable. They've been involved since the very first stages. They gave us a main point of contact to work with and they've provided us with countless case studies.

"They've given over such a huge amount of time to read every draft, every single scene involving Lydia and all the people around her. They've given us that real insight and have really helped to shape the story.

"They gave us the point-of-view of the rape survivor, her partner, friends and the community around her. Interestingly, they also provided some context for the behaviour of the rapist too – which can be really difficult to navigate your way through, because it's totally alien to us.

"It just felt really reassuring to know that they were looking over absolutely everything and guiding us to make sure that everything felt authentic and real."

craig, lydia dingle, emmerdale

Why did you want to tell this story with Lydia? Did the idea to explore the issue arrive first, or was it always specifically focused on Lydia?

"It's absolutely character-led and it came from exactly that. Lydia is such an anchor in the Dingle family – she's solid, she works hard, she's moral, she looks after everyone. Since Lisa's death, Lydia has become the glue that holds that family together.

"When it was first pitched, and when people started to hear about the storyline around the building, we had a lot of people going: 'Oh God no, not Lydia! You can't do that to lovely Lydia!'

"So many people have said that to me, but I think it made me realise that's why it's so important to play it with somebody like Lydia. I wanted to show the reality that someone like Lydia could sadly be that 'one in four' person.

"I think you have to go back to the character – to explore how Lydia copes when something out of her control changes everything for her, and how this affects the rest of the family and the community when that glue isn't there anymore and can't function in the same way. So it was absolutely a story for Lydia, and not necessarily just the story we wanted to play."

Can you tell us how this will affect Lydia in the immediate aftermath and the longer-term?

"It's such a shock initially. Craig is someone that Lydia absolutely trusted – someone she once loved and she relied on. He was her shining light in the darkness when they were younger and lived at the children's home together – and then he's done the most unimaginable and heinous thing.

"At her core, Lydia is a protector, so she wants to protect her family from what has happened. That's what is running through the initial aftermath. Lydia just wants her family to be okay, so she'll put her own feelings to one side to make sure that Sam, Samson and those around her are protected from it.

"Of course, we see that that's not going to work in the long run. Lydia can't cope with living like that for long. Eventually, as the story progresses, she's got to confront what happened to her and try to find a way to live with it."

lydia dingle, emmerdale

Will there be any references to when Lisa went through her rape ordeal in 2011?

"Yeah, of course. The story that we played with Lisa is going to impact everything that happens with the Dingles. We know from that story that Lisa never really got the justice that she deserved. While Derek did go to prison, it wasn't actually for the attack on Lisa, if you remember. This is going to inform how the Dingles react.

"Let's face it, Sam in particular has got that first-hand knowledge of how the criminal process works and he knows how difficult a conviction can be. That's going to affect everything that he does going forward.

"On the other hand, there are other people in the show that have also been through something similar. Rhona is going to be really important to Lydia. She had a very different outcome and her support will prove to be invaluable to Lydia, if she starts to open up to people going forward."

Could we see other survivors like Charity and Victoria play a role in the story too?

"Yeah, I think that's really going to impact what happens. We do have other survivors of rape who live in our village. I think some people might say: 'This is something that soap has done before'.

"But when you look at the statistics – one in four women being raped or sexually assaulted, five out of six rapes happen by someone that the person knows – it makes you realise just how prevalent it is and just how important it is that we keep talking about it.

"As we go forward, Rhona will be somebody who will be really important for Lydia, and certainly we will be addressing the previous stories."

How much does the story explore the impact on the wider Dingle family?

"From very early on in the research with Rape Crisis, it was obvious that the impact on partners, family, friends and the whole local community is just huge. Sam is going to really struggle to come to terms with it and his feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. He just wants to help Lydia, but he doesn't know what to do or how to help.

"What we'll see is how people really don't quite know how to react or what to say. They just want Lydia to be better, but how do you actually begin to help somebody who has been through an ordeal like that? We really see just how difficult it is, not just for Lydia, but for absolutely everyone around her as well."

What kind of impact would you like this story to have?

"It's about raising awareness, really. For anyone who has been through anything similar to know they're not alone and that there's help out there. Every time I see these statistics, which are put in front of me when we do a story like this, it's absolutely shocking."

As you mentioned earlier with people's reactions, are there ever any reservations about exploring a story like this with Lydia and potentially changing the character in the long-term?

"I don't think Emmerdale ever shies away from tackling these important subjects and doing these big stories. Particularly for a character like Lydia, who we know and love so well – she's got that moral, kind, hard-working, down-to-earth and matriarchal character.

"While a story like this can rock those foundations quite a lot, Lydia is always going to be Lydia in the way that she reacts. Everything that happens going forward is always going to be within the confines of that foundation that makes her 'Lydia'. So I think big stories like this can only help to cement those qualities further."

Emmerdale airs on weeknights at 7.30pm on ITV1, and streams on ITVX.

Read more Emmerdale spoilers on our dedicated homepage.

If you would like more information on real-life issues behind Lydia's storyline in Emmerdale, the soap is working with Rape Crisis — which offers a Sexual Abuse Support Line on 0808 500 2222 24 hours a day, or online at 247sexualabusesupport.org.uk. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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