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Helen Archer and Coercive Control

Even if you are not a regular listener of the Radio 4 programme “The Archers” the storyline of Helen Archer, subject to coercive and controlling behaviour by her husband Rob, cannot have failed to escape your attention in 2016.  How Rob’s behaviour unfolded to listeners was a revelation in our understanding of how abuse works.  If you have not experienced it you believe it to be simpler.  In reality we know that even when you experience abuse you do not always recognise it and this is particularly the case when it is coercive control.

Rob’s subtle abuse of Helen began so slowly that she didn’t realise it was happening, then she found herself pregnant with a child conceived by rape, unable to drive her car, her job gone (taken over by Rob), all of her friends estranged from her and with limited contact to her family.  Just as in real life Helen’s family and friends were (mostly) oblivious to Rob’s controlling nature and thought that he was acting in Helen’s best interests as she was pregnant and had a history of an eating disorder. When Helen felt that Rob was threatening her son, five year old Henry, she stabbed him.

Helen was subjected to time in prison and gave birth to her second son there. This gave rise to a lot of questions about how we treat pregnant prisoners.  At last she was found “Not Guilty” of attempted murder and wounding with intent at her criminal trial and was allowed home to Bridge Farm. 

Her next battle was in the Family Court to ensure that both of her sons would be in her care and live with her. The Judge was persuaded that it would be in both children’s best interests to live with Helen. The Social Worker saw things as they were.

Liz Edwards’ blog dealt with some of the problems in the Archer’s storyline. Our concern is that the storyline in the Archers might have given credibility to the inaccurate assertion so often made by an abusive partner that “you will never be believed”. Hopefully more good than harm has been done by the publicity surrounding the Helen and Rob storyline overall.   

Coercive control is now a criminal offense, as is rape of course. The difficulty is that coercive control can be very difficult to prove.

What is Coercive Control?

It is a criminal offence under s.76 of the Serious Crime Act which states that an offence is committed by a person if they:

  • Repeatedly or continuously engage in behaviour towards another that is controlling or coercive; and
  • at the time both parties are personally connected to each other; and
  • the behaviour causes a serious effect on the other; and
  • The perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the other.

The parties are 'personally connected' if:

  • they are in an intimate personal relationship; or
  • they live together and are members of the same family; or have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

Proving a 'serious effect':

  • Causing fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them - s.76 (4)(a); or
  • Causing serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities - s.76 (4) (b).

The government definition outlines as follows:

“Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

In relation to controlling behaviour the guidance is:

“Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”

The difficulty is that it can be very hard to prove that this is happening to you or a loved one.

How can we recognise Coercive and Controlling behaviour?

  • Is there a pattern of repeated abusive or controlling behaviour?
  • Do you fear entering your home or the key turning in the front door for fear of what is going to happen?
  • Are you walking on eggshells around your partner to keep them from “starting on you”?
  • Does your partner pretend that things have not happened and play “mind games” with you?
  • Do you feel that you always have to consider your partner’s feelings and that it would be impossible for you to tell them how you feel without repercussions?
  • Do you feel you have to hide things from your partner because you are frightened of their reactions?
  • Do you have a feeling of heaviness or sickness in your stomach and a feeling that you are not doing it right when you are dealing with them?

All of the above are “warnings” about behaviour.

The most important thing is to recognise this is happening and that there is support and protection available. Then you need to speak to someone who can support you. If you feel that you are affected by this issue then Amphlett Lissimore are able to help, we have a specialist, Carole Hack, who is able to advise you. 

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