By Pietro Lombardi
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A fictional domestic abuse trial in the popular British radio soap opera "The Archers" has prompted charities to call for more support for real-life victims of domestic abuse.
The plight of character Helen Titchener, standing trial for stabbing her abusive husband Rob, has sparked a fundraising campaign, a social media hashtag and a debate on prison reform.
"If Helen had access to specialist domestic abuse support in Ambridge (the fictional village where the character lives) perhaps she would not be on trial now," Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid England said in a statement.
Women's Aid, a domestic violence charity, warned the British government's plans to cap housing benefits as part of welfare reform would have disastrous consequences for women's refuges.
"If domestic abuse refuges are not exempted from the cap on housing benefit, almost nine out of every 10 refuges in England and Wales will have to significantly reduce their current level of provision," Sian Hawkins, a spokeswoman for Women's Aid, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Seven in 10 will be forced to close."
The Archers, the world's longest-running radio soap opera, has brought much needed attention to the issue of domestic violence, Hawkins said.
Over months, the BBC drama has documented Rob's emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Helen.
In February, as the storyline intensified, calls to a helpline run by Women's Aid and Refuge - a charity providing support to women and children fleeing domestic violence - rose by almost a fifth compared with the same month in 2015.
An online "Helen Titchener Rescue Fund", set up to raise money for Refuge, has so far raised more than 135,000 pounds ($180,000). According to the charity this could fund nearly 3,000 nights at a refuge for a woman and her children.
Helen's story reflects the reality of many victims, said Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, urging the public to support survivors of domestic violence.
"When Helen stabbed Rob, she clearly felt that her life – and the life of her child – was under threat from an aggressive man," she said in a statement.
"Listeners have heard Rob alternate between charm and abuse, subjecting Helen to years of psychological torture as well as physical violence."
Former justice minister Michael Gove said in May Helen's plight reinforced the case for reform of women's prisons.
Actor Ewan McGregor, BBC presenters Jenni Murray and Sara Cox, and Member of Parliament Jess Phillips are among those who tweeted their support to Helen and real-life domestic abuse victims under the hashtag #FreeHelen.
In the series, Helen, who gave birth to her second child in detention while awaiting trial, faces up to 12 years in jail for attempted murder.
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)