“I don’t listen to The Archers”

Well, many people who would normally say that, have kept silent recently

The current storyline in “The Archers” about the abusive relationship between the fictional characters Rob and Helen has had widespread coverage and has caught the imagination of many, even those who are not normally followers of this long running radio series. It is not difficult to understand why.

Despite many programmes and initiatives to try to educate and reform those who might resort to behaviour which is abusive and therefore destructive, it remains one of the greatest problems in domestic life. Ironically, the highlighting in “The Archers” of the issue has probably done more than most other initiatives to illustrate the potential impact and consequences of such behaviour.

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse covers a wide range of types of behaviour which has an adverse effect on the person at whom it is directed.

The Government defines domestic violence as

"Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."

It can be seen, therefore, that behaviour which is abusive and comes within the scope of domestic violence is not only the obvious use of physical violence. It also involves more subtle but just as damaging psychological behaviour, such as obsessive and intrusive controlling conduct which deprives the victim of much of their free will. It was this kind of behaviour which was so graphically depicted in “The Archers”.

What are the effects of domestic abuse on the victim?

Physical injury

First, victims of domestic violence can be physically injured, often in a very serious way. Indeed, in this country there are more murders arising from incidents between cohabiting partners (married or not) than any other single category or group of people– victims of murder are nearly always known to the perpetrator.

Even if the physical injury is not fatal, it can be serious and need medical treatment. In really worrying cases, the victim presents to the doctor accompanied by the perpetrator and attempts to cast a web of deception over the way in which the injuries occurred. Of itself, that is a form of domestic abuse with the victim placed in a position where all sense of free will has been removed.

Emotional or psychological harm

Just as worrying and damaging, many victims do not sustain obvious physical injury but are emotionally or psychologically harmed. “The Archers” storyline illustrated the classic effects of controlling behaviour on the victim, which can include:

  • an increasing conviction in the mind of the victim that everything was her/his “fault”
  • an unwillingness to believe or accept (what was obvious to friends) that the behaviour of the perpetrator was unacceptable and abnormal
  • a removal of contact between the victim and her/his friends and family
  • an increasing feeling of paranoia by the victim
  • an inability to talk about the problem
  • even if there is a recognition that there is a problem, an unwillingness to address it.

Can children be affected by witnessing domestic abuse?

It is not only the direct victim who can be adversely affected by domestic abuse.

It is now well established from detailed research that a child or children exposed, even indirectly, to domestic can be adversely affected. Indeed, social services departments often regard domestic abuse between parents as being one of the primary reasons to consider safeguarding measures for the children of the household.

It is not only the potential for physical involvement in the future which can harm children. It is also the fact that children who have seen parents behave in that way, can assimilate such behaviour into their own views of how domestic life is or can be lived. Thus there is fed a vicious and perpetuating circle of abuse extending from one generation to the next.

What can I do if I am a victim?

Most victims of domestic abuse feel ashamed, although of course nothing they have done can ever justify such a response from their partner. It can take much bravery on the part of the victim to take active steps for their own protection and that of the children.

Take advice

There is much advice available to those who need it and much of that advice can be obtained without their partner’s knowledge, this can include:

  • Speaking to a friend.
  • Phoning a helpline such as “Refuge” 0808 2000 247.
  • Contacting the local Citizens Advice Bureau who usually have an expert on the topic available.
  • Contacting your local Police Force, the majority of which have domestic violence units where confidential help is available.

Police

Domestic abuse is a crime. The victim can be prosecuted. In serious cases there is no good reason why this should not happen. The Police will take reports of such behaviour seriously. Whether or not a prosecution will follow usually depends on the evidence that is available.

Consult a solicitor

There is a range of laws which are available to protect victims of domestic abuse.

These include the obtaining of:

  • a family court injunction directed to the perpetrator ordering that behaviour to cease.
  • an order requiring the perpetrator to move out of the family home
  • an order preventing the perpetrator from entering into an area close to the family home, the work place of the victim or the school attended by the children
  • an order preventing the perpetrator from removing the children from the care of the other parent except on terms set out in the court order
  • an order regulating where the children are to live.

A breach of any such orders could lead to arrest and criminal conviction, with the possibility of a custodial sentence. Alternatively, the perpetrator could be sent to prison by the family court.

Conclusion

Domestic abuse is serious and is taken seriously by the law.

Increasingly it is recognised that it is something that can happen in any household, from any background.