The Abused, Review: A Difficult Yet Superb Look At Escaping Domestic Violence

Benji Wilson, 21 February 2019, The Telegraph

At one point in The Abused, an excellent documentary about domestic violence on Channel 5 last night, a man who had committed all manner of horrendous crimes against his own wife was arrested and charged. He protested his innocence: “If all these things had happened, why would she still be living with me?”

That was the question The Abused set out to answer with a detailed, at times deeply distressing study of two recent cases in Norfolk. Both Hazel and Kelly were brutally attacked in the same week. The first thing the police asked as they drove to the scene was “Is there any previous at that address?” the point being that with domestic abuse there’s always “previous”. Someone just has to notice.

The Abused followed the cases as they inched agonisingly towards the courts, but it also went back to footage from several months before in a bid to answer that same question: why don’t these women just get out? Three months earlier, on hearing a fight a neighbour had called the police. When they arrived Kelly told them her husband hadn’t done anything, plain-faced except for a large bump above her left eye. It was a stark reminder that domestic abuse is about control and coercion as well as violence. The film kept showing shots of the women’s hands and feet, shaking with fear.

This one-off documentary was long, but it needed to be in order to stress how domestic abuse happens over a prolonged period, and how even once the perpetrators are sent to jail, the fear never goes away. The film also stayed tightly focused on just the two women, with the occasional glimpse of their despicable tormentors – emphasising that in domestic abuse cases it tends to be one person’s word against another’s.

The whole thing was discomforting in the extreme, not least because it reminded you that there are likely to be a lot more domestic abuse cases out there than those currently reported. It might even be happening to someone you know. Kelly’s advice at the end was: “Just get out. You just need a little bit of encouragement.” Hopefully a film like this will have provided encouragement to someone, somewhere.

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