‘The Archers that made me realize that I was the victim of domestic abuse’

A high profile domestic abuse storyline in The Archers in 2015 has encouraged many other victims to seek help. A woman told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that she only realized that she had been in control of the relationship when she listened to the BBC Radio 4 series.

“The first time I realized what was happening to Helen, I felt something fall on the inside – inside turn to water, because it was so familiar, exactly the way it is,” says Helen Walmsley-Johnson.

The plot on The Archers represented the gradual unfolding of abuse of Helen Titchener for the control of her husband, Rob.

It was praised for its realism of the domestic violence charities, who is credited with what has caused an increase in calls to the national domestic violence help line by almost a fifth.

Ms Walmsley-Johnson says she didn’t know how to describe what had happened to her 10 years earlier until she heard the story and realized the similarities with his own life.

“The whole love thing, sweeping you off your feet and charming of the life, happens very quickly,” she says.

“The control part is coming very slowly behind it all. So for the time being getting a grip on you, you are completely head over heels in love. It is a distorted version of a normal relationship.””No independent thought’

The control or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship became a criminal offence in England and Wales, three years ago, and more recently in Scotland. Carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Ms Walmsley-Johnson met her boyfriend Frank – not his real name – when she was a single mother who lives with her three children, juggling several jobs.


A friend put on a blind date, as she knew, Ms Walmsley-Johnson I was going through a difficult time.

Very quickly they were of an intense relationship, that was a good distraction from the everyday stresses of your life.

Long before he began to say to him things like not to walk in bare feet, and make little suggestions that she says she felt she had to go along with it.

But it was when she went to live with him, she says that his possessive jealousy started to come out.

“He was in control, even turned violent – by which time he had moved me with him, he was controlling me all the time, I had no independent thought by then,” she says.

Frank was going to stand outside a restaurant where I was eating with friends, see her and call to her, although he had said she could go, she recollects.Search help

Ms Walmsley-Johnson, who has written a book about his experience, said that he did not like their friends or family, and when she looked back through her diary that she was struck by how many events she had cancelled.

“Coercive control sucks the life out of you – the violence is very thrifty, but now, and again as they need to know that they can, if so inclined. So the threat is always aware of it,” she says.

The relationship ended several years ago after he lost his job and moved abroad.

He urged that none of the women who thought they were in a relationship similar to the call of Refuge or Women’s Aid.

“It is not easy as you are being watched all the time and you will probably have to have several goes to be able to express it,” she says.

“The totality of the way it works is that it is controlled in silence. And it is the shame of it. It has happened to you. It is not your fault.

“It’s very, very difficult to get to say the words that I was in this type of relationship, this is what happened to me and this is what he did to me. It is humiliating and shameful and feel guilty.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme from Monday to Friday between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC two and the News channel of the BBC.