'Emmerdale' is to air an hour-long flashback special to explore Charity Dingle's past.

Emma Atkins and Mica Proctor

Emma Atkins and Mica Proctor

The ITV soap will confront the subject of child abuse in the ep - which airs on May 29 and will see Mica Proctor play a young Charity - and Emma Atkins, who plays the no-nonsense character, admitted it has been a "wonderful challenge" to take on such a hard-hitting storyline.

She said: "It's such a brilliant opportunity for me to explore Charity's past and a chance to discover why Charity behaves the way she does a lot of the time. It's stuff that's been locked away for years, very painful stuff, and she finally feels able to talk about it.

"The storyline is very serious in nature compared to the comedy I've done more recently so it is a wonderful challenge. The relationship between Charity and Vanessa is showing a different dimension to the usual gold digging Charity.

"It's a love story and it's breathing new life into my character, especially seeing her finally face up to her secret, dark past. It's obviously the hardest storyline I've had due to the subject matter and I am duty bound to play it as truthfully as I can.

"If it in any way helps give anyone out there who's suffered any kind of abuse the strength to open up, even just to talk about it, then that can only be the start of a good thing."

Series producer Iain MacLeod - who is leaving the soap in June to join rival 'Coronation Street' - has teased fans they can expect to see a "massive surprise" in the episode.

He said: "Charity is a character with a complicated, fascinating and heart-breaking history - some of which has previously only been alluded to on screen.

"We wanted to do one of our signature, stylised episodes to fill in the blanks and explore the devastating, formative experiences she went through as a vulnerable teenager - adding in a massive surprise for viewers in the process."

'Emmerdale' teamed up with North Yorkshire's Rape Unit for guidance on the plot.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Rape Unit said: "This is the third occasion that we have assisted Emmerdale with the storylines they have run around safeguarding and incidents involving victims of serious sexual crimes.

"They are so careful to ensure that they are portraying events correctly and providing the right information. They have always made sure the facts are correct and that victims can, and do get, the help and support they may need."

The announcement of the flashback episode comes after the recent revelation that Charity was groomed and raped by police officer Mark Bails - played by Rocky Marshall - when she was just 14 years old.

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