Eastenders’ Chantelle Atkins Murder Storyline Is Key To Ensuring We Continue To Shine A Light On Domestic Abuse

Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales - a statistic which should horrify us all.

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by Rhiannon Evans |

After Eastenders viewers tonight saw Chantelle Atkins murdered by her husband Gray, Domestic Violence charity Refuge has praised the show for its handling of the storyline.

In scenes airing this evening, the long-running storyline culminated in Gray (played by Toby-Alexander Smith) murdering Chantelle (Jessica Kate Plummer). The show had publicly 'spoilered' the Chantelle's death weeks earlier, and viewers were left in tears on Thursday as Chantelle appeared to say goodbye to her parents for the last time.

Speaking in response to the storyline, Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at national domestic abuse charity Refuge said: ‘The scenes we have seen take place in Eastenders over the last few months are sadly reflective of what Refuge sees every single day. Women being controlled, abused, and in some instances killed by their abusive partners. Women’s lives being lost to male violence, while friends and family members are left to grieve having felt powerless to stop the abuse, or being unaware it was even happening.

'The team at Eastenders has done a great job reflecting on screen what is a horrific reality for so many families. Refuge has helped to support the development of these storylines which is important. Soaps are a cornerstone of our society and it is vital that they reflect what happens across the country and in our society today.

The timing of this storyline, whilst brutal, is relevant.

'Domestic abuse is the biggest issue facing women and girls and storylines like Chantelle’s, while painful to watch, are key to ensuring we continue to shine a light on domestic abuse and do everything we can to support women who need help.

'The behaviours displayed by Gray - controlling, monitoring Chantelle’s every move, trying to isolate her from her friends and family, tracking her movements, spying on her, manipulating the children, as well as the physical abuse she is subjected to - are all tactics that abusive partners use frequently. They are designed to exert maximum control and to prevent women from leaving.'

Chantelle had been attempting to leave Gray, and viewers had seen her plans fall apart before she was killed.

©BBC / Eastenders

Lisa added: 'What we also know is that leaving an abusive partner is the most dangerous time for women - and is when the majority of domestic homicides occur. Once a woman threatens to leave, her abusive partner might feel his control slipping, and this can, and does, result in the murder of women across the country. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales - a statistic which should horrify us all.

'The timing of this storyline, whilst brutal, is relevant. Any day now the Domestic Abuse Bill will return to Parliament giving the Government a real opportunity to protect and save the lives of abused women and children in this country. We hope that they will ensure it is as bold and transformative as it has the potential to be. Women’s lives, women just like Chantelle, depend on it.'

Speaking earlier today on Loose Women, actor Smith said that had been a deliberate decision, saying: 'Obviously we could've left it as a surprise, but ultimately it could've been a massive trigger for a lot of survivors out there watching it. If there's anyone at home who's sitting next to someone who is potentially a perpetrator as well, that could be very scary and very dangerous, so I think it was definitely the safest thing for them to do.'

Tragically her death reflects the reality of many women living with abusers, and many more women than usual were killed at the hands of their current or former partners during the first weeks of lockdown

Eastenders has worked with domestic abuse charities since the start of the storyline and Teresa Parker, Head of Communications for Women’s Aid: 'It has been a pleasure to work so closely with the team at EastEnders during the development of this storyline, and they have really listened to the real life experiences of survivors of domestic abuse to ensure that the scripts have been as realistic as possible.

'At the beginning of the storyline, we visited the studios with a survivor of abuse who spoke to Jessica, which was very emotional and had a huge impact on how she has played the character of Chantelle. At Women’s Aid we know only too well how horrific Covid-19 has been for those living with abusive partners... Tragically her death reflects the reality of many women living with abusers, and many more women than usual were killed at the hands of their current or former partners during the first weeks of lockdown.

I know that this storyline will help to save lives by raising huge awareness of domestic abuse, signposting to the support that is available and starting an important conversation about domestic abuse in the UK and beyond.'

If you, or someone you know, needs help, you can contact Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline - a free, confidential 24 hour service on 0808 2000 247. Or go to www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be called back, or to access live chat which is available between 3-6pm Monday-Friday.