Over the years many British soaps have tackled the issue of domestic violence but I don't think any have generated as much interest- and as many headlines- as The Archers has of late.
Following years of gradually escalating emotional and physical abuse, earlier this summer Archers stalwart Helen Titchener was provoked into attacking her husband Rob and subsequently charged by police with his attempted murder. Since then listeners have endured hearing how she struggles in jail, with the birth of her son who was conceived by rape, and most frustratingly how she seemingly refused to tell her lawyer everything that happened, those crucial details which we all knew would be critical to her defense.
The storyline has climaxed in recent weeks: during the trial, emboldened by the support of a friend and fellow inmate, Helen told the court about the full extent of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her husband. We heard the jury's deliberations, including comments from members who had been victims of abuse themselves. Archers fans rejoiced when Helen was found not guilty and freed, and things improved further still when she was granted custody of both of her sons.
The Archers storyline is set to keep running- not least as it currently looks as though Rob Titchener has no plans on leaving the village of Ambridge, where Helen and her family live. But there have also been many references to the time it will take Helen to heal from her experiences, and the support she will need.
When a woman is a victim of domestic violence the focus is understandably on supporting her to get away from her abuser. But once she is out of physical harm's way that is not the end of the story. Abuse, which is often perpetrated over years and in some case decades, often has a devastating effect on women's mental health and erodes their self confidence down to zero.
I know many people were shouting at the radio when Helen was first arrested by police and questioned with no thorough or expert assessment of her mental state. Many more were frustrated by Helen's apparent refusal to give her lawyer the details she needed to build her case, such as the information about her call to the domestic abuse helpline shortly before the attack. But as Helen herself said during the trial, she couldn't talk about it. She hadn't come to terms with the abuse herself; and had been unable to process what had happened to her.
While she may be a fictional character Helen's experiences are all too real for many women, and her story illustrates why it is vital women escaping domestic violence are offered the mental health support they need. At Woman's Trust we provide specialist counselling who have experienced domestic violence, helping them to rebuild their lives and develop the strength and resilience they need to lead the lives they want. Archers fans will be hoping that Helen- who has had mental health problems in the past even before she met the dreadful Rob- is able to get the support she needs.
I'll finish with the story of another domestic abuse survivor- and Woman's Trust ambassador- who has been in the news recently, this time on television. During one of the audition rounds of this year's X Factor Marianna Zappi stepped up to the microphone and wowed the judges with her emotional rendition of Bob Marley's redemption song. The singer went on to share her own journey; how she escaped a violent partner and thanks to Woman's Trust got the support she needed to move on. Her story is a shining example of how, with the right help, women who have had the most horrendous experience can recover, regain their strength and self-belief, and move on with their lives.
Everyone at the Woman's trust is so proud of Marianna, and are rooting for her as she goes forward in the X Factor competition.
For more information about Woman's Trust's work and how to support please visit our website.
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