The internet has done something brilliant this past week. Almost £50,000 has been raised for the domestic violence charity Refuge in just seven days as a result of a JustGiving page set up in aid of a fictional character from The Archers, Helen Titchener.
For those who haven't followed her story, Helen's husband Rob is abusing her. For more than a year, listeners have heard Rob purposefully and gradually erode Helen's independence and self-esteem, and dress up his extreme possessiveness as care and concern.
The JustGiving page, which was set up by a Refuge supporter, uses this fictional character to help real-life women fleeing domestic violence. Any woman who has used Refuge's services, as I have, will know how vital this is, and many of those women will recognise Helen's story as their own. Certainly, Rob's controlling behaviour is all too familiar to me.
I met Tom* when I was just 14. He seemed very respectful and I was attracted to that. We were childhood sweethearts, and went on to have three children together.
Looking back, Tom was controlling from the very beginning. He was constantly suspicious and didn't like me to have friends. He was always very nice to their faces, but he made it clear to me that he didn't like them and that I shouldn't see or talk to them. If I wanted to go out, he would refuse to look after our three children. Like Helen, I became very isolated.
Tom hated it when I spoke to other men; we couldn't even go into a shop without him starting an argument with any male shop assistant who so much as looked at me. He especially didn't like the clothes I wore and said they were too provocative. He said I dressed the way I did because I wanted attention from other men, and didn't like me wearing make-up.
Just as Rob belittles Helen, my ex would often mock and embarrass me. He'd do things like boast about having received better GCSE results than me, and purposefully use words I didn't understand to humiliate me. If I expressed an opinion he didn't agree with, he'd shout me down.
The emotional abuse got worse and worse. He would tell me he couldn't stand me, say that I should kill myself. Just a few months into our relationship, the abuse became physical. I was trying to leave the house and he pushed me onto the sofa, screaming in my face.
I didn't know what to feel - it was a surreal moment. After that, he would frequently push me around. He'd rip my hair out, slap and kick me, strangle me, and slam my head into the wall. He would always apologise profusely, saying he didn't mean it and that he loved me. He said he would kill himself and me if I ever left him. Once he even held a knife to his throat, crying, saying he couldn't live without me.
My friends and family could see how controlling and manipulative Tom was. But like Helen, I would try to minimise the abuse and cover it up. Eventually I stopped talking to my mum about my relationship - I got sick of seeing her cry with worry. My friends did their best for me, but I had to help myself. No-one could take that step but me.
I was five months pregnant with my third child that I finally decided to leave. Tom had choked me from behind and wouldn't let go for ages. It was the worst it had ever been.
After leaving him I went through a lot of different emotions. When I thought of the things I allowed him to do to me, I felt sick. I was angry with myself because I should have left a long time ago. Slowly slowly, by speaking to friends and family, I came to the realisation that I was a victim. He wore me down until I had no strength inside me to change anything.
I didn't want to be with a man again for a long time. But I'm now engaged to someone who's the complete opposite of Tom. It took me a long time in the beginning to feel anything - I felt numb and I couldn't tune in. It was a strange emotion, but slowly I began to come back to myself.
I am glad that Helen's story on The Archers has highlighted the controlling dynamic of domestic violence. I hope women listening, who may be in similar situations, recognise Rob's tactics and reach out to an organisation like Refuge.
Domestic violence is a crime. Every woman and child has the right to a life free from violence. If you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone, please visit www.refuge.org.uk for information and support.
If you'd like to donate to Refuge via The Helen Titchener Rescue Fund click here.
*The name of the perpetrator has been changed.
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