Helen and Rob Titchener's domestic violence storyline in the Archers on Radio 4 has utterly gripped the nation, touching so many people in the real world. Almost five million listeners tuned in to last week's dedicated week long trial, to see if Helen would be found not guilty of the attempted murder of her husband, Rob. The opening episode began with Rob taking his place on the stand, shedding crocodile tears, and portraying himself as the loving, devoted husband he clearly wasn't. He'd underestimated the determined Anna, Helen's defence counsel, who put it to him that he'd passed the knife to Helen, stating the only way she could escape was to kill herself, and daring her to do just that before he lunged at her young son, Henry...
As the trial continued, gasps were heard from the gallery when Helen finally broke her silence and admitted that Rob had repeatedly raped her in a bid to have a child. Many listeners took to social media to comment on this powerful episode, praising Helen for being brave in revealing the truth. Although distressing, observing other people's lives, either from listening to radio productions, watching soaps, or indeed, in real life, can often allow us to see our own situation more clearly. Helen's mother, Pat Archer, was clearly overwhelmed on hearing her daughter's heartbreaking evidence, confirming that it isn't only the victim who is affected by domestic violence, but their families too.
It was only when Rob's ex-wife, Jess Myers, took to the stand and spoke of their acrimonious marriage, revealing that she had also been raped by Rob when they were together, that gave the glimmer of hope Helen's supporters needed to hear. Rob was questioned on his ex-wife's evidence, giving an Oscar-winning performance, and insisting both Helen and Jess were needy, unstable women. In Anna's heartfelt summing up, she put it to the jury that Helen did what any one of us would had done under these intense circumstances - protect herself and her child.
In Sunday's unique hour-long episode, the jury found Helen not guilty. Social media was at meltdown with messages of relief and joy at the result. Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, immediately responded "thankfully the judge and jury saw Helen's actions for what we all knew they were - the actions of a woman in fear of her life and fearful for her child. We don't know what will happen next - but we know that she will need support from a specialist domestic abuse service, to help her and her children to rebuild and recover. She is free - but the invisible prison of domestic abuse will stay with her for a long time. Helen, Women's Aid is here for you. We stand in solidarity with you - and all survivors of domestic abuse."
For every fictional Helen there are real ones, and as this plot has shown, abusers are often initially charming and loving, until their partner is fully committed to them. Then begins the gradual process of controlling and intimidating their victim, and, just as Rob did with Helen, gradually isolating them from family and friends, and making them wholly dependent on the abuser. There are many reasons why women struggle to leave in these circumstances - fear of retaliation, having young children and nowhere to go, no money of their own, worrying they won't be believed, as in the case of Helen, when Rob came across to others as a caring, loving, man - a pillar of society. Often victims convince themselves that their abuser's behaviour will improve, and indeed, question if it was their fault, that they in fact, deserved this.
The skilful writers have been praised for their realism, which at times many listeners found disturbing and uncomfortable, never expecting anything quite so shocking to happen in The Archer's tranquil village of Ambridge. Raising awareness through this emotive storyline, that domestic violence can happen in any community, and to anyone, has encouraged others to reach out for help, and set themselves free from abuse.
The Helen Titchener Fund, which was set up by a fan of the show, reached its target of £150,000 as last night's unmissable episode aired. The money raised will go to Refuge, the domestic violence support charity.
Women's Aid can provide both practical and emotional support, and, alongside the love of family and friends, victims can survive to enjoy the abuse-free life they very much deserve.Women's Aid: www.womensaid.org.uk 0808 2000 247The Archer's can be heard on BBC Radio Four every day Sunday to Friday at seven p.m. And they're repeated the following day at two p.m. - except on Saturdays.