THE verdict is in: Helen Titchener is innocent of attempting to murder her husband and walks from court a free woman.
If you’re not a fan of Radio Four’s The Archers you won’t know what I’m talking about but, take it from me, this fictional court case has gripped the imaginations of millions of listeners.
For the five months during which Helen Titchener (néeArcher) was held on remand our prime topic of conversation has been: Guilty or Not Guilty?
People forgot that this was a radio soap opera. One sympathetic listener, Paul Trueman, even launched the ‘Helen Titchener Fund’ in aid of Refuge, saying, “I know Helen isn’t real, but controlling, vindictive, abusive pricks like [her fictional husband] Rob are, and all this money is. And Refuge is. And all those brilliant women it’s going to help are.”
The fund, though Just Giving, raised almost £160,000 from 8,000 donors, money which will be used to help real people in the same situation as Helen.
One in four women and one in six men will experience some kind of domestic abuse in their lives, and 16% of all violent crime is domestic abuse. Two women a week are murdered by partners or an ‘ex’; 30% of abuse starts during pregnancy and, on average, victims suffer 35 assaults before police are called.
Why do relationships and people change? How does a young couple, seemingly head over heels in love, end up fighting a war? Surely people enter relationships optimistically and hopefully, expecting to spend the rest of their lives together?
Sadly, there is a pattern to an abusive relationship. Just as children can be ‘groomed’ by paedophiles, women and men can be ‘groomed’ in what should be a loving relationship. Emotional abuse, insidious and sometimes hard to prove, can lower the victim’s self esteem, leading to feelings of worthlessness, self-harm and even suicide.
It can also impact on the children of the relationship, leading to poor weight gain in babies, poor performance at school and difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships, a legacy which continues into adulthood.
Self-doubt convinces victims of an emotionally abusive relationship that they see themselves as the cause of the problem; sometimes even feeling they deserve the treatment they receive.
They fear they will not be believed if they talk to a professional, even more so among men who are abused, fearing ridicule, particularly about being perceived as ‘weak’ if they admit they have been physically abused. And there are fewer places of safety for men, fewer shelters and less support.
Just as rape is considered an act of violence as well as a sexual crime, domestic abuse by either gender, straight or gay, across all social strata is a crime of control as well as of violence. Abuse knows no social boundaries.
Last year, 1.4 million women and 700,000 men were affected by domestic abuse, costing the economy £3billion in legal fees, housing and other service costs. Losses through absence from work alone totalled £1.9billion.
By highlighting the plight of abused people and raising awareness of a huge problem The Archers has done an incalculable service. But The Archers is just a story. Helen is not real. It is the problem that is real.
The man next door who explains away a black eye by saying he walked into a wall is real. The woman who rarely goes out, who seems to flinch when spoken to, is real. Be aware. Be sympathetic and offer informed support.
Thanks to The Archers the problem is high on the agenda. Now it’s our turn.