EastEnders has gone “behind closed doors” to screen a domestic abuse storyline.
In Friday night’s episode, viewers witnessed “the devastating truth” about a couple who appear “to have the perfect life”.
The BBC One soap worked with Refuge and Women’s Aid on the story and script.
Young couple Chantelle (Jessica Plummer) and Gray Atkins (Toby Alexander Smith), moved to Albert Square with their two children earlier this year.
But in Friday’s episode, Gray, a successful solicitor, attacked his wife, a hair stylist, the minute they were alone and it soon became clear that this had happened before.
Chantelle has kept the abuse secret.
EastEnders boss Kate Oates said: “When Chantelle and Gray arrived on the Square, they gave many of their neighbours a big dose of life-envy with their perfect relationship and no-filter-needed looks and lifestyle.
“But there is truth in the old adage that you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and the very first time we crossed the threshold of Number One, we saw the truth of their relationship, and the violence Gray subjects Chantelle to.
“In this story, we seek to acknowledge the fact that any relationship, however outwardly enviable, can be affected by violence and abuse.
“Chantelle is strong and capable, with friends and family to support her, and yet she is still unable to voice what is happening to her, and is therefore preventing anyone from helping her because she regards her abuse as a shameful secret.
“We hope this story encourages women and men who experience violence to seek out the help we know they deserve.”
Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley said: “Domestic abuse is the biggest issue affecting women and children in this country today.
“It is a crime which takes the lives of two women every week in England and Wales alone, with one in four women experiencing the issue in their lifetime.
“Domestic abuse mostly happens behind closed doors – hidden, lurking in the shadows of our society.
“The more we all understand domestic abuse, be it the physical, emotional, sexual, financial control exerted by one partner over another – and are able to spot the signs – more women, like Chantelle, will be able to seek help from specialist organisations like Refuge.
“No-one should live in fear of their partner. Refuge commends EastEnders for shining a light on this insidious issue.”
Women’s Aid head of communications Teresa Parker said: “It is important when portraying domestic abuse on screen to make it as realistic as possible, and EastEnders have been working with us from the early stages of the storyline, through to advising on themes to the detail of the scripts.
“From the initial red flags to seeing what is going on behind closed doors, this storyline has been thoroughly researched with experts in domestic abuse.”
Actress Plummer said she felt “honoured to take on the responsibility” of playing Chantelle.
“This is an issue that I, and everyone at EastEnders, hope we can raise awareness of.
“Many women and men that are in Chantelle’s situation suffer in silence and we really hope that by showing this story we can highlight an issue and encourage those in similar situations to seek the help they need,” she said.
Smith, who plays Gray, said the couple’s story would “take a huge turn for the audience”.
“This storyline will depict how hidden from sight domestic abuse remains even today,” he said.
“To the unaware eye Gray appears to be a loving husband and a committed father but his charm is a front for the power and control he exerts over Chantelle – an experience all too common to thousands of women up and down the country today.
“Domestic abuse, in all its forms, is against the law and is shrouded in secrecy. I hope that by tackling such a sensitive subject matter we can raise awareness of the importance of changing societal values so that both women and men’s rights to live free from abuse, invasion, disempowerment and intimidation are respected.”