The Archers’ explosive storyline that culminated in Helen Titchener stabbing her husband, Rob, in Sunday evening’s episode – and in Monday’s being arrested on suspicion of wounding – has shown that domestic abuse is not confined to brutishly violent situations depicted on the likes of EastEnders: Rob Titchener is (or was; we still don’t know if he’ll live or die) an intelligent, charming and urbane man whose apparently genuine love for his wife slowly and insidiously twisted into a dark desire to control every facet of her life.
Rob didn’t thump Helen after rolling home drunk from the pub. He didn’t rant and rave; what he did was much cleverer and more subtle than that – over the course of two-and-a-half years, he gradually chipped away at Helen’s confidence by questioning her choices about clothes, hair, or wanting to run the farm shop rather than be a stay-at-home mum – all the while ratcheting up the cruelty of the taunts and the criticism.
Many people still think of domestic abuse as physical violence, meted out by thuggish, uneducated men to meek, hopeless women, but The Archers has shown us that abuse is just as often psychological and emotional harm wrought by men across the board who present a respectable, plausible image to the outside world.
At Benussi & Co, we see clients who have suffered controlling, dominating behaviour over many years which has left them isolated and humiliated; relationships that involve threats, anger, shouting and recriminations; where they feel it is their fault and they are to blame.
Again, The Archers has proven this well: When Rob did physically hit Helen, he was able to convince her that it was her fault – that she had driven him to it. It explains why women like Helen, who are clever, strong and ambitious, stay with abusive partners. As their confidence is eroded further, this belief becomes cemented and it becomes all the more difficult to leave. They constantly live on a knife-edge of fear.
Thankfully, awareness about the serious damage domestic abuse causes to victims – usually women, but sometimes men – and their families is now increasingly recognised. The charity Women’s Aid reports a 20 per cent increase in calls to its helpline over the last year, which it believes it partly due to the “Archers effect”.
The courts also understand the issues and the reasons why desperate women, like Helen, can finally turn on their abusers: the genuine fear of attack upon their children or themselves (many women are murdered each year by their partners) and the loss of control that results from the stress of their difficult situation.
Too many people – again, usually women – stay with abusive partners long after they should get out of the relationship. If you are in this kind of partnership, our message to you is simple: however hard it seems, you must get out. If you don’t, the abuse will only get worse.
But first of all, you need to identify your relationship as abusive. We have heard too many clients say: ‘Oh, my marriage isn’t abusive; that’s just the way he is’. But if your partner is making you wear clothes he has chosen; if he constantly wants to know where you are and who you’re with; if he doesn’t let you have control of your own bank account; if he doesn’t like your friends and family; if he tells you you’re stupid, and if he says you don’t need anyone but him – THAT is abuse.
Whatever your partner might say, the law is clear about your rights and your share of the marital assets. Your children will not be taken away if they are safe with you.
So don’t be like Helen and put up with more than two years of abusive behaviour that strips you of your confidence and self-esteem; go now. Abusive partners don’t suddenly see the error of their ways; they just get nastier and more controlling. The only way to stop them is to leave them.
* To highlight the nature of domestic violence and abuse, Benussi & Co has produced a leaflet for clients. If you would like a copy, please contact us.