5 lessons to learn from the Archers about domestic abuse

What can make an extra 100,000 people tune in to a Radio 4 drama? The answer of course is an escalating story line of Domestic Abuse. The Archers have recently caught the attention of the nation and the media when it’s story line of Helen being the victim of abuse by husband Rob came to a head. On the 3rd April, after years of emotional and physical abuse, during an argument in which Rob was preventing her from leaving and threatening Helen’s son, Helen stabbed Rob to death (or so she thought). We are now caught up in the resulting court case in which Helen is being treated as the prime suspect.

So, what has this Archers storyline taught us so far?

1. To put the victim at the Centre
Sean O’Connor, the series editor says “Ultimately, Rob is a subsidiary character who exists in order to help us examine Helen. She is the main protagonist. It is Helen’s story, of her going through this dark phase of her life, that the audience want to identify with. We hope we will travel with her to some sort of positive resolution.” This story line has put the victim at the centre which so many services, processes and the criminal justice system fail to do.

2. No help and support = crisis
This storyline escalated until someone, in this case the victim, took murderous action. The fact that the whole nation probably agreed that Helen’s actions were more than valid, doesn’t change the fact that now Helen’s life has changed, irrevocably and for the worse. Yes she is potentially free from her abuser, but she now has to face serious charges, a prison sentence and separation from her son. On the other side of the coin, two women a week are murdered by their partners or ex partners. None of us would agree that murder or manslaughter – even in self defence – is an acceptable ending to a story like Helens. That’s why support services like SATEDA are so vital, to provide help and support to victims before they escalate further, and to run preventative programmes to stop them happening at all.

3. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone
The fact that this programme is aired on Radio 4 gives an indication of the type of characters that feature in this radio drama. They are middle-class country-side farming folk. Not the stereotypical image of domestic abuse. But domestic abuse does not discriminate like humans do. Regardless of class, age, career type, educational level, race, sexuality, upbringing, wealth and political views, domestic violence can affect anyone.

4. The system can fail victims of domestic abuse (no surprises there).
As soon as the emergency services and the police turn up on scene after Helen stabs Rob, hysterical Helen is quite quickly hand cuffed, removed from her home and son and taken down to the police station. Is she asked what happened? Is she asked whether she feels safe? Is she allowed to speak to her family? No. Series editor Sean O’Connor says “Talking to our professional advisers, and to Refuge and Women’s Aid, we learned that this is the reality of how some women are treated in some instances. It’s an unpalatable truth and that’s why we wanted to dramatise it.” At SATEDA we really enjoy working closely with a wonderful dedicated domestic violence police officer, which enables both of us to support victims in a more effective way and so we hope that in Swale, experiences like Helen’s will become an exception rather than the norm.

5. Exposure helps more people access help
Sean O’Connor said that “we know from talking to Refuge and Women’s Aid that discussing the story is having a profound effect on abused women choosing to pick up the phone and talk about their situation. That has gone up 20% since January 2016.” Talking about this issue, bringing it out from behind closed doors is key to educating more people to recognize the situation they are in and empower them to get help. So please share this article, tell people that support is out there (through SATEDA if they live in Swale), let people know it’s ok to admit that they are a victim of abuse and let perpetrators know it is not ok.

Helen is, of course, a fictional character. However her story line is reflective and representative of thousands upon thousands of women who are real life victims of domestic abuse right now. These victims live and work in your cities, towns, villages, streets and buildings. They could be your neighbour, your best friend, the mum you smile at at the school gates. In the future it could be your daughter, granddaughter or one of the kids you see playing out in your street. SATEDA works tirelessly to support current victims to become free and prevent future victims ever becoming one. If you would like to support our work, please consider donating some money to enable us to keep up our vital work by heading over to our Just Giving page. Whether its one pound, one hundred pounds or one million pounds(!) we are so grateful for every donation and for you standing by us in our fight against domestic abuse.

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