The Archers – a powerful reminder that domestic abuse is not confined to urban areas article banner image

The Archers’ storyline of Helen and Rob Titchener has ignited a flurry of comment, editorial space and social media postings like perhaps no other in the show’s history.


Behind the outpouring of opinion, the reality is that the storyline has significantly raised awareness of domestic violence in rural communities and the nature of domestic abuse. Incidents of domestic abuse are not restricted to urban areas nor are they restricted to particular socio-economic groups.

Domestic abuse does not need to include physical violence. It is the elements of control and isolation that have come to the fore within the Archers’ storytelling and the story is the better for it. The harrowing way in which Rob has managed to isolate Helen from the majority of her friends and family has been powerfully portrayed. It hasn’t emphasised physical violence like many other programmes do, but it is no less uncomfortable and difficult to listen to.

The programme’s approach has been praised by charities, with Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge, commenting that women listening “may realise that they are not alone” and that she felt the storyline had gone as far as actually saving lives, with women reaching out and seeking help.

The issue of domestic abuse in rural areas can present its own particular issues. It can involve isolated communities where, as part of the issue of control, transport is restricted to stop the victim seeking help.  Usually, services available to victims are in urban areas. Like Rob, perpetrators can be plausible and apparently upstanding members of their community so that a victim can feel vulnerable in making allegations against them.

For victims of domestic abuse, in addition to the excellent help and support that can be provided by organisations such as Women’s Aid or Refuge, there are both civil and legal remedies that can be used to protect and support the victim and their children. The Family Court has the power to make injunctions called Occupation Orders that can regulate the occupancy of a home, excluding the perpetrator from entering so as to provide a safe home, and Non Molestation orders that can prevent someone using and threatening violence. The scope of a Non Molestation order can also include preventing harassment both in person and indirectly via email, telephone calls or social media.  If a perpetrator breaches these orders, then those breaches are dealt with in the criminal court.

In addition, during the currency of the Archers’ storyline the criminal law was changed with the introduction of the new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in familial relationships which carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

Protection is available to victims of domestic abuse but no one should underestimate the courage that it takes to seek that help.


Mark Smith is a partner and specialist family solicitor with a specialism in disputes involving children. If you would like to contact Mark, then please call 01392 210700 or email