Warning: This article contains spoilers for the current Yasmeen and Geoff storyline in Coronation Street.
Millions of people have watched for months as a man has chipped away at his partner’s confidence and identity.
While the relationship between Coronation Street’s Yasmeen Nazir and Geoff Metcalfe culminated in violence on ITV on Friday, a charity has warned similar stories are playing out in real life behind closed doors.
The Coronation Street team hopes its story – which has coincided with an increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines during the coronavirus lockdown – will help people escape toxic relationships.
The storyline has seen Yasmeen – played by Shelley King – gradually pushed away from friends and family, humiliated and tormented by her husband Geoff, played by Ian Bartholomew, in a textbook case of coercive control.
The relationship came to a bloody head in Friday’s episode as Yasmeen lashed out with a wine bottle, leaving Geoff bleeding from the neck.
Calls to domestic abuse charities jumped 49% in the first weeks of the covid restrictions and domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid says there have been an increase in people making contact after episodes of the soap aired.
“Now more than ever it is so important to get that message out there,” says Ian Bartholomew.
The writers and producers worked with domestic abuse charities on the storyline to make sure it gave an accurate depiction.
Producer Iain Macleod says: “If they read the scripts and didn’t think something was right we would get rid of it.
“There is the potential to do as much harm as good if we do it wrongly. If the message we put out persuades people not to get help it would be catastrophic.”
What is coercive control?
Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour which is designed to make the victim isolated and reliant on the perpetrator.
According to Women’s Aid some common examples include:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food
- Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
- Making threats or intimidating you
Different parts of the UK have different laws to protect people against coercive control. It first became a crime in England and Wales in 2015.
There were 17,616 recorded offences of coercive control in the year to March 2019, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, nearly double the number there were the year before.
Iain says Yasmeen, normally a strong character, was specifically chosen for the story to show it can happen to anyone.
“It doesn’t matter how strong you are, this coercive control is very subtle,” he said.
The on-screen abuse has included Geoff locking Yasmeen in a box, killing and serving her pet chicken as food and telling people she is an alcoholic.
“It is death by a thousand cuts. It gradually corrodes somebody’s personality, their social life, isolates them from their friends in such a bespoke fashion,” Iain says. “Often they don’t realise it is happening.”
Shelley King says while filming had been intense, it was important to her that the story was helping people.
“I have 15 to 20 direct messages every time there is a major moment in the storyline, and particularly since last Friday.
“It is making a difference and that means a hell of a lot.”
However, the issue has caused division in the audience. Some viewers have said on social media they won’t watch the show until the storyline has finished.
Iain says he understands it is a “tough watch” and could be triggering to people who have experienced this kind of abuse.
“We have to believe that the good it does in helping people that still have a chance to escape outweighs that,” he said.
Coercive control survivor Natalie Curtis says the storyline has been vital in helping other women understand.
“The episodes in which you see Geoff control, bully, manipulate, isolate, threaten, gaslight, belittle and confuse Yasmeen are devastating,” she says. “This crime is happening right now in the homes of many women and children, a place where you are meant to feel safe, but for so many this is not a place of safety.
“I understand how hard it is to watch as I’m a survivor of coercive control but educating other women and showing how perpetrators of domestic abuse control their partners is paramount.
“Your friend, family member or work colleague could be experiencing domestic abuse. The behaviour could at the start seem quite subtle and is there to confuse the victim and gain power and control.”
As well as helping victims, Ian Bartholomew – who plays Geoff – says the storyline also shows how everyone has a responsibility to be aware of coercive control.
“You think, ‘He doesn’t treat her very well,’ but you don’t say anything.
“Now I would do that before. I think I’d have thought it is none of my business but of course it is my business, it is all of our business to look after each other.”
Laura Dix from the Women’s Aid Federation of England says if a friend or family member is being coercively controlled, you might see their behaviour change.
“They may seem isolated, socialise less, or seem nervous or afraid of their partner,” she says.
While things are likely to get harder for Yasmeen before they get better, and likely to include a court appearance, Shelley says there has to be a positive end to her tale, to show those in her position there is the possibility of something good in the future.
The story reflects real-life cases such as that of Sally Challen who killed her husband after years of abuse.
She was jailed for murder in 2011 but had her conviction quashed in 2019 and later admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can find help and advice here.