Fiction vs Family Law: gaslighting in The Archers

As promised in the last blog, we’re checking back in on Rob and Helen from The Archers.

You can read the first blog, but just to recap, Rob coerced Helen, his wife, into having a child, and then began to use her pregnancy as a way to control her. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for people in an abusive relationship, and it seems this holds true even in fiction. While nothing that has happened seems particularly related to the festive period, Rob’s controlling behaviour has intensified.

In a particularly damaging move Rob quit his job and convinced Helen that her pregnancy means she should have a job share with him, then deleted an order she had put through and convinced her she’d forgotten to do it in the first place.

This particularly kind of abusive behaviour has a name – gaslighting. The term actually taken from fiction itself; in the 1938 play Gaslight by William Hamilton, a husband convinces his wife she’s losing her mind through a series of lies and trickery. It’s a form of emotional and psychological abuse that is often used to isolate a partner and keep them reliant on their abuser without being overt about it.

While Helen has still to reach out for help – or, it seems, even consciously acknowledge that she needs it – there is a new law that will help both men and women in her position. Legislation which came into force at the very end of 2015 means that partners who use coercive or controlling behaviour to abuse their partners can now face up to five years in jail, as well as a financial penalty.

While we hope that Helen and anyone else with similar difficulties will not have to go anywhere near a criminal court, it is a relief to know that the law will now support them should they have to.

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