The Archers Helen and Rob storyline bolsters new law on domestic abuse

The Archers storyline on domestic abuse has helped highlight the sort of controlling or coercive behaviour targeted by new laws, a senior prosecutor has said.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 4th September 2016, 2:26 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th September 2016, 3:31 pm
Helen and Rob from The Archers.
Helen and Rob from The Archers.

Listeners were gripped by the BBC Radio 4 soap as Helen Titchener was subjected to psychological torment before stabbing her husband Rob.

Millions will tune in on Sunday night as Helen goes on trial for attempted murder and wounding with intent.

At the end of last year new laws were introduced to tackle perpetrators who subject spouses, partners or other family members to “controlling or coercive” behaviour.

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The legislation is aimed at a range of conduct that could include controlling victims through social media, spying on them online or stopping them from socialising.

Siobhan Blake, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Mersey-Cheshire and a specialist prosecutor for controlling or coercive behaviour cases, told the Press Association: “I think this storyline has really gone some way to demonstrate the way that this type of abuse builds over a continuous time and repeats.

“I think it will give the public quite a good understanding of the sort of behaviours that this offence is trying to target.”

She said the storyline has “opened a public debate around this type of offending” and “maybe given an illustration of how psychological trauma can be just as damaging to somebody’s life, and a person can be equally as victimised when psychological trauma is inflicted on them as maybe in other more well recognised aspects of domestic abuse”.

Under the new law, which took effect in December, the CPS can prosecute specific offences of domestic abuse if there is evidence of repeated or continuous controlling or coercive behaviour.

Offenders can face up to five years in jail.

Ms Blake said: “The absolutely key thing to remember is this isn’t one-off incidents, this is a pattern of behaviour and the criminality is very much considered in the context of each relationship.”

Describing examples that could constitute controlling or coercive behaviour, she said: “Somebody who is tracking their partner by way of social media without their consent, controlling fundamental life decisions - that could be absolutely as basic as having to ask somebody’s permission when you use the bathroom.

“Or somebody removing all the internal doors in a property so that they always know where you are. It can be more sophisticated, it can be around financial control and holding funds in a particular way.”

She went on: “What we really need to stress with this is it becomes criminality when it has a really serious effect on the person upon which these acts are being perpetrated.

“So it either causes them to fear violence or it has a substantial adverse effect on their day to day activities. So in essence somebody is setting down rules within a relationship and the potential of breaking those rules leads the other person to fear a consequence.”

She encouraged victims to come forward, saying there are a range of special measures to support them through the criminal justice process.

The first official figures on cases brought under the new law will be published this week.

Ms Blake said there has been a “positive start”, adding: “It’s a relatively short period of time that the offence has been enforced and we have to remember it wasn’t retrospective in its application.

“The cases we’ve got will build, I suspect, in terms of the number as time moves on.”