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Domestic abuse helpline calls soar following Archers storyline

Published 18/03/2016

The storyline has horrified listeners across the nation
The storyline has horrified listeners across the nation

Calls to the national domestic abuse helpline have soared by nearly a fifth in a year, fuelled in part by a hard-hitting storyline about coercive control in The Archers.

Britons have been listening with growing horror as the long-standing character Helen Archer has been psychologically bullied and abused - and perhaps even raped - by her husband Robert Titchener.

The storyline coincides with the introduction of the new coercive controlling behaviour offence, which criminalises extreme psychological and emotional abuse which falls short of physical violence.

Charity chiefs credit an "Archers Effect" with helping to raise awareness that domestic abuse affects all sorts of people, including middle-class independent women in sleepy villages.

Figures released to the Press Association show that 6,774 calls were made to the national domestic abuse helpline in February this year compared with 5,783 in February 2015 - an increase of 17%.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Women's Aid, told the Press Association: "It is really powerful - I think it will make people stop and think and help women understand what is really happening to them.

"I think it has made quite a big difference to people's perception of domestic abuse itself."

She said the way The Archers has portrayed the gradual drip-drip effect of the abuse, slowly chipping away at a victim's self-confidence, is highly realistic.

She said: "The experience on The Archers is very typical. A lot of the time women don't realise they are being controlled until they are hit by the fear.

"Suddenly they get a glimpse into what might happen to them if they break that person's control, and suddenly it becomes very real and it is really obvious then that they are in grave danger.

"But they might not have necessarily seen themselves as being in an abusive relationship until that point."

The BBC Radio 4 storyline about the arrival of the charming farmer Rob, who whisked Helen off her feet before embarking on a subtle but deeply horrifying campaign of emotional abuse, has gripped and appalled the country.

Over many months Rob has gradually, but determinedly, isolated Helen from her friends and family, manoeuvred her out of her job, and played on her insecurities so she has become a shadow of her former self.

The storyline has provoked a massive outpouring on social media and prompted one fan to set up a Just Giving page which has raised more than £65,000 for the domestic violence charity Refuge.

It echoes the real-life experiences of many women, including mother-of-one Rachael, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

She was an independent woman working at a multinational corporation, but all that changed when she got into a controlling and coercive relationship.

Her husband persuaded her not to return to work after having a baby, controlled to the last penny what she could buy, what she could wear and where she could go.

Rachael, who is in her 30s and lives in the south of England, told the Press Association: "I lost my voice, I lost my rights, I lost my liberty to have a say in what went on.

"By the time I left him I was so without liberty I could barely raise my eyes to look at him in the eye for fear of being out of place and being insolent and speaking out of turn. I wasn't allowed to do or say anything."

She said she hopes The Archers will reach out to women suffering in silence, as she did for several years.

She said: "I feel encouraged that it is on Radio 4 and in that context, because there will be an awful lot of ladies listening to that who are abused in quiet, middle-class, deceitful marriages and relationships.

"That will reach out to a lot of untouched ladies."

:: The Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge, can be reached on 0808 2000 247.

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