The Archers has been an occasional relaxation over the years. I tend not to seek it out, but if it’s on when I’m driving, I listen and enjoy it.
Until the story of Helen and Rob. Having worked with many survivors of domestic violence I heard a chilling familiarity when Rob suggested to Helen that it would lovely to spend Christmas on their own, and not with her extended family. Gradual isolation is a familiar early sign of the insidious nature of much domestic abuse, to the extent that ‘coercive control’ – – has recently become recognised in law.
A few weeks ago I facilitated an event, in Wales, bringing together public and voluntary sector stakeholders as part of developing a local domestic abuse strategy. Police, probation, housing, homelessness, education, health, and refuge organisations shared informative and engaged discussions. In one of the sessions toy figures (including Marge Simpson out of her usual role) were used to plot out the possible journey for survivors through services – showing up big gaps in support.
And having invented hypothetical stories, we then had a powerful speaker (J) relating her own experience. J’s husband had convinced her it would be lovely to move to a very remote rural cottage – a fresh start. With no internet, phone or even electricity. From being a confident professional woman, she reached a point where despite considerable violence, she didn’t even mention it to A&E staff after an assault (and no one asked). After many years her abusive husband beat her severely and left her for someone else. J dragged herself miles to the nearest phone box to summon help. She is now safe in a women’s refuge – but one of her children recently returned to his father, despite the abuse.
It is difficult for J to fight this, with a significant reduction in the availability of legal aid. But she is lucky to have the support of a refuge to help her rebuild her life. Although small local refuge organisations were developed specifically and only to support women and children affected by domestic abuse, they are increasingly closing down as a result of serious funding cuts, or failure to win tenders against large national organisations in a new commissioning environment. This is particularly the case for those charities who work to support women from ethnic minorities. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/sos/
I have been glad to have the opportunity as a consultant to be funded to provided capacity building support to organisations at risk. And to work as a facilitator to help those organisations with a role to play in supporting those affected by violence engage creatively and supportively in a difficult environment.
But – going back to the Archers – did anyone expect events to unfold in the way in which they have? I can’t listen to it, and I think it’s partly because we, the listeners, are witnesses to this story where there are no others.
Some years ago there was a significant change in the understanding of the nature of self-defence in cases where a woman had been systematically abused. So Helen may be in a better position now than she would have been earlier in my career. Fingers crossed.
You can read more about Karen’s work with organisations that support survivors of Domestic violence here. Holy Brook Associates’ charity of the year is Trust House which supports survivors of Sexual Abuse