Listeners of Radio 4 drama The Archers were left in shock on Sunday night after a long-running domestic abuse storyline came to a brutal climax.
For almost two years, the character of Helen Titchener (Louiza Patikas) has been subjected to gradually worsening emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abuse by her husband Rob. In Sunday night’s episode, she attempted to leave him for good – but ended up stabbing him after he tried to harm their young son.
The episode ended on a dramatic cliffhanger, with listeners unsure as to whether Rob (Timothy Watson) would survive. The Archers immediately began trending on Twitter as people took to social media to voice their support for Helen.
The programme has been widely praised for drawing attention to an issue that affected 1.4 million women in Britain in 2014.
When he was written into The Archers in 2013, refined Rob Titchener was not an obvious soap opera villain – or abuser.
But he has gradually revealed himself as manipulative and controlling: criticising Helen relentlessly, questioning her sanity, limiting her access to her car and phone, and isolating her from her friends and family.
Through following the Titcheners’ story, listeners have been exposed to many of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. Statistically, domestic violence victims are most at risk when they attempt to leave their abusive partners, making Helen’s situation even more frighteningly true to life.
Archers fan Paul Trueman was so moved by Helen’s story that he set up the Helen Titchener Rescue Fund.
“If over the last year or two you’ve sworn at the radio, tweeted in outrage, taken the name ‘Robert’ in vain, or posted your disgust at the worsening situation in Blossom Hill Cottage, then now’s your chance to do something constructive about it,” Trueman wrote on the fund’s JustGiving page.
All the cash raised for the fictional character will be donated to Refuge to help real-life victims of domestic violence. So far, nearly £90,000 has been raised for the charity.
Refuge’s chief executive, Sandra Horley, said that the charity was “as shocked as everyone else” by the episode’s horrifying turn of events. She added: “This episode tells us that a victim of prolonged abuse may one day fight back when she is in great danger.
“Helen’s situation mirrors what so many abused women feel and experience every day,” she said. “It is important to remember that research shows an abused woman is at most risk at the point of separation. This storyline simply reflects the reality for many women today and I congratulate the script writers for highlighting a much ignored issue."
The long-running plotline has also coincided with the introduction of Britain's new coercive controlling behaviour offence, which aims to protect domestic abuse victims who are subjected to psychological and emotional abuse.
Some Archers fans have been critical of the dramatic storyline, saying that it is too much like “something you might see on EastEnders.”
But when one in four women in England and Wales will suffer from domestic violence during their lifetime, anything that gets us talking about this horribly everyday crime can only be a good thing.
Domestic violence is a crime. If you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone, please visit refuge.org.uk for information and support.