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Tackling coercive control in domestic abuse


coercive control, domestic abuse, the Archers, Refuge, no CSE,Why does the government refuse to make sex and relationships education compulsory?

There’s a lot more to domestic abuse than just physical violence.

Seven years ago, for example, a 15 year-old fell victim to coercive control and emotional abuse.

When she was in Year 9, she developed a close friendship with a boy at her school with whom she shared a few classes and mutual friends.

A few months later, they became a couple, more as a result of pressure from him and her peers, she later admitted, than strong feelings for him on her part.

Gradually, the relationship became rather intense and quite toxic. She doesn’t remember exactly how or when it started, but it turned out he was very manipulative, jealous and controlling.

He policed what she wore, who she hung out with, who she spoke to and what she told people about their relationship, how much time she spent with him and her friends, what she did and where she went – most aspects of her life, really.

He would frequently check her texts and Facebook messages, and he even took her phone home with him and kept it overnight on a few occasions.

He also insisted on walking her home from school every day, despite her house being in the opposite direction and quite far away from his.

He showed very little respect for her, her friends or her family, and he was constantly putting her down, accusing her of a number of absurdities.

And he was prone to severe mood swings and erratic behaviour – he once ignored her for a whole week for no apparent reason.

Basically, he was wearing her down and destroying any sense of independence and confidence that she had.

Fortunately, it seems he was never physically violent, apart from one occasion when he punched her in the arm after she’d had the cervical cancer vaccine and told him that she was in a lot of pain.

Her parents had no idea what was going on, but her friends – myself among them – could see that the relationship was really unhealthy and became increasingly concerned for her.

Luckily she ended the relationship about a year and a half after it began, and, she told her friends, successfully managing to cut him out of her life completely.

Her experience is not a rare one, but a lot of victims can’t and don’t escape like she did.

BBC Radio 4’s long-running soap opera The Archers has been the subject of much discussion in the media recently as a result of its hard-hitting storyline about the relationship between two of its characters, Helen and her abusive husband Rob.

The story has been unfolding over the course of two years. Rob has gradually become more manipulative and controlling, and he eventually ended up hitting and raping Helen.

The response from listeners and the public in general has been phenomenal, to the extent that a JustGiving page was set up to raise money for domestic abuse charity Refuge.

The page says “we’re raising money for Refuge because for every fictional Helen, there are real ones” – and more than £126,000 has been donated so far.

The Archers’ storyline has been a fantastic tool for raising awareness of and educating people about coercive control and all the aspects of abusive relationships, not just the best known – physical violence.

The Archers has also been effective in dispelling certain myths and exploring various issues related to abusive relationships, such as marital rape and mental health.

The documentation of Helen and Rob’s relationship has highlighted just how powerful and devastating coercive control and emotional abuse are, as well as how difficult it can be for the victim’s family and friends to realise what is going on, something that has particularly shocked listeners.

But while the reaction to and effects of the Archers’ storyline can be seen as nothing but positive, it is not enough.

And it should not be up to a Radio 4 soap opera to raise awareness of domestic abuse in all its forms throughout the country.

Many women and girls do not realise that they are in abusive relationships, partly because of a lack of education and awareness, and partly because of the manipulative behaviour of the perpetrator.

And partly too because there is still a common and still extremely harmful belief that if a partner is not physically violent, then they are not abusive.

This is of course completely untrue, and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, if not more so, to the victim as physical abuse.

Sadly, the two often go hand in hand.

My friend’s experience, shared by many other girls and women in the UK, highlights the need for education about domestic abuse and relationships – and from a young age.

It is crucial that we are taught early on the differences between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship, what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, and what to do/where to go if we feel that we, or someone we know, may be in an abusive relationship.

Nobody should have to experience what Helen has been through in the Archers.

Coercive control and domestic abuse inevitably results in victims having a warped understanding of relationships, as well as low standards for themselves and for future romantic relations.

And the government’s recent decision not to make sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools will certainly do nothing to help.

But hopefully the momentum of the response to Helen and Rob’s story will continue to gather pace and encourage people to do something positive and proactive to help fight domestic abuse.

If you need help – or information – about domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247; free and at any time – or click here.

If you are being threatened, call the emergency services number: 999.

And please, write to your MP and ask them to support making sex and relationships education compulsory in all schools.

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