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Does Love Island Raise Awareness of Abuse or Excuse It?

Women’s Aid, the domestic abuse prevention charity, released a statement last month in response to a conversation broadcast on Love Island 2021 between contestants Danny and Lucinda.

‘Last night, we saw the development of Danny and Lucinda’s relationship and became increasingly concerned with his behaviour towards her on screen, including what looked like gaslighting, possessiveness, and manipulation. This is not what a healthy relationship looks like. These are all tactics used by perpetrators of abuse.  

‘Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse which makes someone question their perception of reality. It is a form of coercive control, which has been a criminal offence since 2015. 

‘We urge the producers of Love Island to recognise coercive control when it is happening on the show, as this is not the first time it has happened. Producers should step in when any form of behaviour is abusive, as abuse should not be used for entertainment.’ 

The charity issued similar statements during previous series of Love Island after the behaviour of Adam Collard (2018) and Joe Garratt (2019).  

Love Island and ITV have made repeated statements assuring the public that they care about the welfare of the contestants, that the screening and aftercare processes are thorough, especially in the wake of multiple suicides being linked to the experience of leaving the show. It’s worth noting that this is a problem with reality tv generally, rather than Love Island specifically. Across the world, 38 people have died by suicide after appearing on reality TV.   

Days of footage are boiled down to the final version through selective editing, so we end up seeing exaggerated caricatures of people’s personalities. This is why it’s so easy for Love Island to manufacture narratives, heroes and hate figures from what would otherwise mainly be a show about people chatting to pass the time taking it in turns to apply sunscreen to each other’s backs. 

Contestants are rocketed to short lived, intense fame before they just as quickly cease to be relevant. As reality TV has grown, so has social media, providing the public with more ways to anonymously share their thoughts, and even message people directly.  

'ITV told the Mirror: ‘We take the emotional well-being of all the Islanders extremely seriously. We have dedicated welfare producers and psychological support on hand at all times who monitor and regularly speak to all of the Islanders in private and off camera.'

‘All the Islanders are therefore fully supported by the professionals on site and by their friends in the villa. Islanders are always able to reach out and talk to someone if they feel the need. We will of course continue to monitor all of our Islanders in line with our robust protocols.’ 

After contestant Chloe Burrows received death threats over social media, Love Island released a statement urging viewers to ‘think before posting, and remember that our Islanders are people with feelings’. The #BeKind campaign sparked by the death of Caroline Flack in 2019 resurfaced again in response to the way the public were talking about this year’s contestants. But where is this consideration of people’s feelings when the production team decides to broadcast manipulation, gaslighting and controlling behaviour year after year? 

It’s harmful to both the contestants, who are in an incredibly emotionally intense environment, but also the viewers at home. Domestic abuse is more common than we are comfortable with, and there will undoubtedly be survivors watching Love Island, who understandably find the show much more upsetting than they do entertaining. Equally, there will also be perpetrators of abuse who are emboldened by seeing people on TV behaving in ways they think are acceptable without being challenged.  

Is Love Island doing anything other than holding up a mirror to toxic relationships, patterns of abuse and control and letting us get angry about it every year, with no real concern about the effect of what they are showing on the public, and what they are doing on the contestants?  

There is an argument that this is raising awareness, providing the public with an opportunity to spot early signs of abuse. If this were the case though, why do Women’s Aid feel the need to comment at all? Is it possible that the show is just using real people to stir up drama without intervention from producers, for our entertainment? 

There is a huge difference between the impact of Love Island stepping in to halt unacceptable behaviour, demonstrating to the audience that a line has been crossed, and the show letting the cruelty play out in front of millions of people, presented uncritically enough for Women’s Aid to feel the need to step in and tell ITV and the public that what they are seeing are the warning signs of abuse.  

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