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The Archers: how legal support can help the real-life Helens escape domestic abuse

Date:5 APR 2016
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Recent changes to the law on domestic abuse could have helped Archers character Helen Titchener to escape her husband Rob before she reached crisis point and stabbed him, according to a leading family lawyer.

The long-running BBC Radio 4 soap opera has caused controversy with its storyline featuring Rob's coercive behaviour towards Helen, which reached a climax when she lost control and stabbed him.

However, Rayner Grice, a family law specialist at Clarke Willmott, pointed out that a new offence that was introduced last year under the Serious Crime Act could have helped  Helen to leave Rob or have him removed from the family home.

She said:

'Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 creates a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships.

'The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years' imprisonment, a fine, or both, and sends a clear message that this type of abuse is taken seriously and punishable by law.'

Ms Grice, a partner and head of the Family Team at Clarke Willmott in Birmingham, added that the problem for Helen - and for real people in similar controlling relationships - was actually acknowledging that the treatment they were being subjected to by their partner was against the law.

'Increasingly, I am seeing clients who during our conversations reveal evidence of coercive psychological behaviour which they had not recognised as abuse, even though it can be more damaging than physical abuse.

'Nowadays this can often involve use of social media, such as text messages and emails, which can be very powerful.'

She said that Helen seemed to have had no idea of the legal support that she could have received.

'If she had made an appointment with a family lawyer she could have received advice in relation to all of her opinions under Family Law, and could have prevented her situation deteriorating to the point that she is now in a situation involving criminal law.

Support that Helen could have been given could have included making applications on her behalf for non-molestation and occupation orders which could have provided protection for her from violence and harassment and regulated her and her son's occupation of the family home, and removing Rob, if necessary. This could have enabled her and her son to remain in the home until decisions were made about the future of the marriage.

Another option would have been for Helen to have made a formal complaint to the police requesting that they investigate her allegations of coercion and control. The police are now compelled to take action, and can no longer dismiss this type of behaviour as a "domestic", even if there is no evidence of physical abuse.'

Ms Grice added that to mitigate criminal charges against her, Helen would need to be able to show the psychological abuse she has been subjected to over the previous two years during her relationship with Rob.

She said:

'The harm caused by coercion or control over a sustained period of time can be more harmful than a single act of violence but it is not so easy to prove, particularly when that abuse has involved a perpetrator isolating a victim from family and friends. It is also important to acknowledge that while the focus of these difficulties has traditionally been against women, increasing numbers of men are also experiencing similar situations.'