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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Can Radio 4’s The Archers help more people spot the signs of domestic abuse?


BBC Archers storyline - Domestic Abuse and Coercive Control.

For the regular readers of our blog, you may recall I questioned in January (Family relationships in The Archers) whether the relationship between Rob and Helen in Radio 4’s The Archers was showing the hallmarks of domestic abuse, and specifically, of coercive control.

The alarm bells in my head were, it transpires, correct. Helen is falling headlong into a situation which will become very difficult to disentangle herself from. 

Having now married Rob (suddenly and entirely at his whim) and allowed him to get involved in the running of her new business venture (by making her feel inadequate and undermining her skill-set), he is now also financially reliant on her, having given up his job.

Increasingly acting in anticipation of what Rob will think and avoiding any possible conflict, is a typical sign of an abusive relationship. As is the fact that after plying her with alcohol, there is a vague notion that Helen may have been raped. Yes, it is possible to be raped within marriage. 

What’s worse, is that just as Helen may have seen him for what he is, her parents have suddenly fallen for his spurious charms, making it harder for her to open up and discuss her concerns.

Spotting 8 signs of coercive control

If we take the case of Helen and Rob we can see some of the classic signs of coercive control. You might use these to spot if a friend or family member is being abused:

  1. Have you spotted how Rob is jealous and possessive? This often masquerades as being ‘over caring’.
  2. Notice how he has cut Helen off from family and friends and tried to isolate her. A common sign that this is happening is that the victim cancels plans at the last minute.
  3. Rob can be charming one minute and abusive the next. Sudden changes of mood or a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde type character are another common sign.
  4. Control over the other person’s life – for example, in relation to money, who they should see, what they should wear and where they go are further danger signs. 
  5. Have you noticed that Rob blames Helen for making him feel bad? It’s common for an abuser to blame the abused and make them feel guilty.
  6. Rob is not averse to criticising Helen in public which she finds insulting and humiliating.
  7. Have you noticed how Helen changes her behaviour to avoid making Rob angry? That’s another potential sign of abuse.
  8. Physical and sexual violence, often justified as ‘getting carried away’ is something else we’ve seen in the Rob and Helen relationship. 

As with the situation with Helen in The Archers you may not see all of these signs if a friend or family member is suffering. And you’re unlikely to be told as victims of abuse often feel responsible for their situation – a result of the loss of self esteem. But if you are concerned, there are a number of ways you can help. The first step is to be a listening ear and create a safe place for them to tell you what’s happening. If you are the victim don’t suffer in silence, discrete, confidential advice is available. The National Domestic Violence helpline has lots of useful information for victims as well as their friends and family. 

Get the help of a family lawyer

If you feel ready to take legal action there are several ways a family lawyer can support people who are the victims of abuse, ranging from obtaining occupation and injunctive orders to force the abuser from the house to divorce proceedings and negotiating the financial consequences of the relationship breakdown. 

The police can also act under new powers, whether the violence is physical or emotional.

If you are a friend who is worried, a carefully framed question, oft repeated, may eventually get the victim to open up. Then the help and support can begin. 

Tamara Glanvill
Divorce & family solicitor Bedford


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I helped a friend of mine break away from someone we now know to be a serial mental abuser. I know the lengths they will go to. From my personal experience in this the police are a total and utter waste of time. From start to finish they did not want to know, and failed to be of any use at all other than having the abuser placed on a register. On one occasion i went with my friend to a meeting with two police officers. She had found a tracking device on her car which her abusive partner was using to track her movements, and they did not want to know or help at all.

By Kevin Nunn on Wednesday March 30, 2016

Hi Kevin,
I think historically “domestic abuse” has been categorised differently (and dare I say sometimes not taken as seriously) to other “abuse” by police but recent changes to the criminal law, making coercive control a criminal offence should lead to changes, as should statistical evidence that what starts out as emotional abuse can escalate. What The Archers storyline has done is engage the public in thinking about abuse differently and I sincerely hope this helps people such as your friend in future. The civil (and family) courts also have powers where there is domestic abuse, so if the police can’t/won’t help, family lawyers might well be able to try a different approach with injunctions, and legal aid may be available to some victims.

By Tamara Glanvill on Wednesday April 6, 2016

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