MENTION The Archers, and you’ll likely conjure up a quintessential Radio 4 listener. A middle-aged women with an Aga. Someone who makes her own bunting, bakes Victoria sponges and attends parish council meetings. The long-running agricultural soap takes place in Ambridge: precisely the sort of place you’d find this woman. The Archers’ fictional home, is by all accounts, a nice place. It’s hardly a typical vehicle for heavy subject matter.

Previous gritty plotlines have included baby llamas and bovine TB. In a community where almost everyone’s life orbits around cows, this was a big deal. Though that story, like most in the soap’s history have remained light entertainment. Amusing, but hardly the sort of thing you’d learn any transferable life lessons from. It’s because of its timidity that The Archers has become home to the best-written and most necessary domestic abuse storyline in recent times.

In the last two weeks the pastoral bubble was burst. After two years of psychological and physical abuse, while trying to leave, Helen Titchener stabbed her husband. She’s been arrested, separated from her child and faces giving birth in prison; hardly in keeping with the day-to-day. The plot jars with the setting. It doesn’t fit the stereotype, and despite the praise from the likes of Refuge and Women’s aid, some listeners have taken umbrage.

From the “shame on you for chasing ratings” to the more explicit “this doesn’t happen in places like this”, their displeasure has been bountiful. Strip away the subtleties and the true nature of these protestations becomes clear: this doesn’t happen to people like us. It has shown how locked in to ideas of abuse so many still are.

We need a reality check: this can happen to anyone. Your gender, socioeconomic status or location will not protect you. Domestic violence does not respect your particulars.

The wealthy, rural backdrop to this story has forced me to examine my own go-to abuse scenario – one, I wasn’t even aware I had. When I think of domestic violence storylines – of which there have been many – I immediately think 90s Eastenders. Little Mo, in the kitchen, with the iron. It was violent and shocking, and culminated in the character in question convicted of attempted murder. This is still my mental Polaroid, though it’s been a long time since I stopped watching schlocky soaps. The Archers has reminded me this has to change.

Why? Because we’ve anchored abuse to social class. It’s something that happens to poor people. It’s something that happens when you’re down on your luck, or you make bad decisions, or you live a less than virtuous life. By creating this heuristic, it becomes someone else’s problem. Visibility of the issue is diminished to anyone outside of that group. When we obscure visibility, we reduce others’ ability to help and remove their responsibility to do so.

The story is messy, intricate and hobbled by doubt and misdirection. In this non-linearity it comes far closer to reality than most abuse stories care to tread. The victim’s history of mental illness and perceived vulnerability introduce doubt and probable cause. Add a lack of bruises, outright denial and dependence on the perpetrator, and you begin to get a sense of how complex this issue can be. How could a charming, well-liked man be capable of cruelty? Why wouldn’t a woman with a history of instability be culpable?

As in real life, the characters don’t comply with neat moral filing. We don’t become absolved of our flaws through suffering. You can be the embodiment and sweetness and light and still be capable of the unthinkable. You can have a chequered past and still be a victim. Most of us harbour shorthand versions of victims and perpetrators. Any opportunity to force our fixed ideas out into the sun is one we should grasp.

In December, new coercive control legislation came into force. A law that would see precisely this fictional scenario as punishable by law. This allows charges to be brought where there are patterns of sustained controlling or manipulative behaviour in relationships. But do we really know what that means? Right now, there are probably only a handful of people who would feel confident in describing these new powers and what would merit using them. This is true of both the public and law-enforcement. It’s time society’s fixed mindset evolves alongside the law.

As with any new legislation, there will be a bedding-in period. There will be no instant results. Prosecutors will need to learn how to apply it and make convictions. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves. Some will seek out the information themselves, others are less inclined. This is where fiction comes into play. It allows for outreach in disguise. The reaction to The Archers storyline has shown how necessary that disguise might be.

There is a long way to go in dismantling the stereotypes that surround domestic abuse. Our ideas of it are tied up in subconscious biases and outright prejudices. Whilst this issue remains entombed in a patina of misinformation, we need to tackle it in the round. Popular culture has an important role to play in permeating our perceptions. Using a soap or a drama as an analogue can be a tool. There’s a human attachment to character the brevity of news stories don’t afford us. Piggy-backing this emotional investment, storylines become a Trojan horse: a way to educate without dictating. For those who don’t want to hear the truth, it can be a useful tool in shifting perceptions.

The reality is not Albert Square or Ambridge. It’s much closer to home. One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Two women a week are murdered because of it. It accounts for 16 per cent of all violent crimes reported in England and Wales, has more repeat victims than any other crime, yet is still the least likely to be reported to the police.

This crime doesn’t always show bruises. And when the signs don’t fit with the narrative, they’re easy to miss. So we will always need another storyline to remind us, even if we don’t like it.