Even if you’re not a listener you’ve probably heard about The Archers coercive control storyline that culminated in Helen stabbing her abusive husband. I was one of the thousands rooting for Helen in what felt like a hopeless case. As the story played out I woke worried in the middle of the night, more than once, unable to see a positive outcome. At the last minute she found her voice and told the court what we had all guessed – Rob had raped her because he wanted a baby. We all remembered the episode when she woke up bruised and tearful, her newlywed joy destroyed. What we hadn’t guessed was that it had happened over and over again and we were horrified.
Helen’s testimony, as well as that of ex-wife Jess, changed everything and allowed all the pieces to fall into place. The jury believed Helen and she is now free with custody of her two sons. If social media is anything to go by I’m not the only one feeling a huge sense of relief. But something has been nagging at my conscience. I can’t stop thinking about Kaz.
Kaz was the friend that Helen made in the mother and baby unit while she waited for her trial. Kaz was rough at the edges and the antithesis of middle class Helen, but they soon discovered how much they had in common. More precisely they each knew how much pain the other had suffered and understood. We don’t know her full back story but Kaz represents, for me, all those women who find themselves in a place they don’t want to be.
It is Kaz who finally tells Helen that she has to speak out:
After all the pussy footing around, the coaxing, the gentle probing it was exactly what we wanted to hear. Kaz had said it for all of us. Sometimes the educated and liberal minded chattering classes simply miss the point. It’s the blunt honesty of life experience that cuts through all the sham. Kaz was able to give Helen that push, the confidence to admit what had happened to her. She was a vital part of the story but it’s moved on and we don’t know her fate, perhaps we never will.
The Archers handled this story brilliantly and has been universally praised for raising awareness about coercive control in relationships. Women’s Aid were involved with the writers and during the trial itself social media was awash with hashtags #FreeHelen and #Solidaritea alongside selfies of BBC presenters drinking tea. But now that Helen is free how do we maintain the momentum and ensure that all women know how and where to turn for help?
Kaz represents all the ‘real’ women out there, on their own, struggling to rebuild shattered lives, desperate to find safety and often just a heartbeat away from returning to the abuser. No matter how good the research, how clever the script The Archers was always going to move on from this story. But in reality there is rarely such a neat and happy ending. So I’m going to ask you to help make sure that Kaz is not forgotten and I’ve come up with ways we can all make sure that violence against women remains high on the agenda.
- Don’t be a fair weather friend. Don’t be afraid to share stuff and you will be amazed what comes back to you in response. We are all going through every kind of misery that life throws at us, so STOP being all smiley and pretending that none of it happens to you. Don’t cross the road to avoid speaking to someone you know is in trouble. Be present. Be there. Listen and love. If you don’t know what to say don’t say anything – it’s not advice but understanding that is needed, give your empathy and be a safe person to trust. (Kirsty is a great example).
- Put one or more of the women’s charities on your radar, they are desperately underfunded compared to other more glamorous causes. Like their facebook pages, follow on twitter and get involved with fundraising activities:
- Do some research. Read a few books. Share stuff with your kids. Violence against women isn’t just about domestic abuse here in the UK but extends across the world. Women and girls pay the price of war, famine, religious persecution and gender politics. If you want to watch some good documentaries this is a good list to choose from Together for Girls.
Stay safe girls and enjoy the next chapter in The Archers.