Angela Black: the harsh reality of domestic abuse off screen
By Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid
Friday, 12th November 2021: ITV’s thriller Angela Black zooms in on a woman’s seemingly perfect life. Angela has two sweet children and a loving husband, whose high-flying job finances a large suburban London house and two cars. We quickly learn, however, that all is not as it seems. Angela’s husband controls her every move – repeatedly talking down to her, telling her how much money she can spend, and even hiring someone to follow her. He persuades her to stop speaking to her mother and decides everything for her, from the clothes she wears to how she should speak to their children. While Angela’s story is fictional, Women’s Aid had input on all aspects of this depiction of abuse, all of which is based on the stories of women we support.
We know from our work with thousands of women every year, that women throughout England experience coercive control every day. Coercive control is behaviour designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday actions. In the year ending March 2020, the police recorded almost 25,000 offences of coercive control across England and Wales1, and countless cases go unreported.
As the drama unfolds in Angela Black, we see her husband’s behaviour escalate into extreme gaslighting – a form of psychological abuse whereby Angela is forced to question her own sanity, ultimately leading to her admission to a psychiatric hospital. Women’s Aid advised on scenes in which Angela is unable to decipher what is real and what is not. Filmmakers tapped our expertise to ensure Angela’s experience was rooted in real life examples.
Sadly, stories like Angela’s are all too common.
Many women go through similar experiences and are abused, not only by their partners, but also by the very systems in place to protect them. Just as it happens on screen, women are made to believe that they are going ‘crazy’ by perpetrators, with previous experiences of mental ill health, such as post-natal depression, being used against them. They can be branded as mentally unstable by the police, healthcare professionals and the legal system. Mental health is weaponised by social services and in the family courts – causing women to be separated from their children, just as Angela is.
Mental health is also weaponised by perpetrators to justify abusive behaviour.
After causing Angela extreme physical harm, knocking a tooth out and leaving her severely bruised, her husband is hugely apologetic. He repeatedly says sorry, and even though this has happened many times before, he says he can change. He explains that this behaviour isn’t really him, alluding to the fact that his own mental health conditions cause him to act outside of his control. From our work with survivors, we know that perpetrators often use mental health as a justification for their actions – but there is no excuse for abuse.
That’s why this year, we launched Deserve To Be Heard – a campaign aiming to highlight the devastating impact of domestic abuse on the mental health of women and their children. Women’s Aid research found that almost half of women living in refuges reported feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts as a direct result of the domestic abuse they had experienced2. But we know that these figures are likely to be much higher, as stigma and fear around disclosing mental health problems prevent many women from speaking up – especially when they know it can be used against them by perpetrators and in court. Additionally, if women don’t get the appropriate support they need, it can make the trauma even worse and last longer, impacting the rest of their lives.
All too often women’s experiences are belittled, disregarded and completely denied – just as Angela’s is. Deserve To Be Heard is a call for survivors to be believed and responded to effectively.