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Casualty spoilers follow.
They've done it again. Casualty broke new ground once more tonight (July 24) with Jacob and Tina's episode centred solely around coercive control. It was confronting. It was uncomfortable to watch, but it was there for a reason. And it'll continue to be there as we watch Tina's reign over Jacob take hold over the coming months.
For the past few weeks, we've seen Tina insidiously manoeuvre her way into the driving seat of Jacob's world – subtly manipulating him both in his personal and private life. If there was any doubt about where this story was heading, then it was obliterated in the very first scene tonight. For the 40 minutes that followed, we watched Tina use various strategies of coercive behaviour to manipulate Jacob – consciously and subconsciously, publicly and privately, gently and violently. And sadly, this is just the start.
"A lot of research went into this storyline," Charles Venn – who plays Jacob – said exclusively to Digital Spy. "We see how Tina uses these manipulative skills – ostracising him from his friends, planting seeds of doubt, making him question himself. She even spun something that wasn't his fault and made him blame himself so he ended up apologising.
"It happens, though. Even when we were filming this episode, I had men coming up to me on set and saying they had goosebumps as they recognised it from what they had gone through with their ex-wife. In fact, three men came up to me and one was actually very emotional. He said that Jacob's experience was what he had gone through and it had taken him a long time to be able to leave that situation. "
The Office for National Statistics figures show that every year one in three victims of domestic abuse are male. One in between six and seven men will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Over the pandemic period, this intensified. The charity ManKind saw an increase of calls to its helpline by 25% and visits to its website increase by 75%. However, according to SafeLives data, men only make up 4.4% of DA survivors that are currently being supported by local domestic services.
Despite the statistics, it's fair to say that there's been a gendered paradigm when it comes to domestic abuse. This is likely rooted in many historical and social constructed patriarchal values, which have unfortunately generated damaging stereotypes about what domestic abuse is, and who experiences it. Back in 2012, Corrie became one of the first UK soaps to meaningfully attempt to debunk this with Tyrone's abuse at the hands of his girlfriend Kirsty. The story garnered awards and universal praise but also disclosed the plethora of misconceptions and prejudice there was around domestic abuse. Work still needed to be done.
On paper, Jacob wouldn't necessarily strike you as someone who would find himself on the receiving end of any type of abuse – be it physical or emotional – if stereotypes were to be believed. Physically, he's very fit – comfortably running 10k daily, as we, somewhat uncomfortably, learnt tonight. He is confident, controlled, widely liked and highly regarded – both at work and outside of it. As Head of Nursing, he is Tina's senior. He is in a position of power. He is a boss. He is a man. But does Charles think watching Jacob's ordeal will be enough to debunk the associated misconceptions surrounding domestic abuse once and for all?
"Honestly, that is what we want to do", he said. "It's imperative to highlight this issue, especially after lockdown where there was a huge spike in domestic issues at home. At the same time, it is breaking down stereotypes, like you say, and showing that this is not gender-specific.
"Most people think that coercive behaviour and domestic abuse can only happen to females. And even I was surprised to hear that it was going to happen to Jacob. As a person, he's very switched on, he's got his head screwed on and he would have encountered things like this before in his job. Never did I think he would end up finding himself in a situation like this himself, but coercive behaviour happens."
"In reality, there are a lot of men who go through these situations", Charles continued. "Sadly, because of our social constructs, they feel too embarrassed and too emasculated to speak up – they are led to believe that they are supposed to be strong, and if they are not, it's seen as weakness.
"Once again, credit to Casualty for tackling such a deeply-rooted issue. It was important to show someone like Jacob in this position, who, aesthetically, you can't imagine being put through something like that. It happens, though. It happens a lot more than people think."
Casualty explored Jacob's different reactions to each form of manipulation tonight – another groundbreaking first – serving as a painful reminder of the prevalence and different forms coercive control can take. It broke format and played with time. Jacob faced several moments of choice where he initially speaks up for himself, but when Tina reacted badly, he changed tack and tried to keep the peace.
One scene saw Tina share intimate details of Jacob's eating and spending habits with their colleagues. Other scenes saw her surreptitiously question his motives for being a nurse in the first place. And another saw her physically assault him. We saw different outcomes. We saw him confront her on all occasions – first assertively, then passively – and Charles has explained what this deviation in episode house style was really trying to show.
"It's trying to show that we all have an inner voice that wants to say something but doesn't always know how", he said. "It's about choices. Sometimes we think, 'No, I am going to confront that situation' and we do, but in that split second you have to make a decision – do I say my piece or do I pacify?
"What we are trying to show with this, though, is that with coercive control, the situation worsens the more passive you are. She manipulates him either way, but when he's passive, it starts to fall into the same pattern and the same loop. The more he decides not to say anything, the more the loop can and does continue.
"Before he knows it, he is so deep into that rabbit hole that he doesn't know how to get out of it. In many ways, I suppose we want people to watch it and be able to recognise it if they are in a relationship that's similar so that they can address it. The general premise of the episode is about showing the finer details of how coercive control really does play out."
The episode tackled overtly abusive acts, such as physically harming someone, but also behaviours that don't necessarily stand out as abuse but still leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
"It's very, very clever and a credit to Adele [James, who plays Tina]", Charles added. "She did a tremendous job depicting how these people do it and rationalise it in the perpetrator's heads. You'll see how sometimes they don't even realise what they are doing themselves.
"We explore micro-aggressions and there is a reason for that. As we know, Jacob is a compassionate man who wants to save lives but these micro-manipulations start to rewire and re-programme his thoughts. He starts to question whether his ego is in the way and whether he just wants to be a hero. This means he's now questioning his job as a nurse – it's the one thing that really motivates him but he's now thinking he's in it for the wrong reason.
"These are all the skilful, manipulative tactics that Tina possesses and I am sure many people will recognise them and relate to that in themselves. That is why this episode is so clever. We are hoping that maybe people will recognise some of Tina's tactics in themselves as well and realise that's what they are doing, even if they didn't realise before. Hopefully, it will lead them to address it. "
Jacob's journey is undeniably going to be a long one, but is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
"It's going to run for a long time", Charles confirmed. "His journey is a hell of a long one, but after we see how it ends, I really hope it has an impact – be it to other men, women, or anyone in this situation. You are going to see how far this rabbit hole goes. From now until the climax, it is mentally challenging and mentally difficult. I found it really hard to do.
"As an actor, it is by far the most challenging story I have ever, ever done in my entire career – on so many levels it's difficult. I feel protective towards Jacob but I have to stay in the prism of who he is. I can't be biased or prejudiced; I have to tell that story.
"It's been very, very difficult but both Adele and I felt so honoured to be given this episode and to be able to tell that story."
Casualty continues on Saturday, July 31 on BBC One.
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