Love Island and other reality TV shows are helping to normalise domestic abuse
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Love Island and other reality TV shows are helping to normalise domestic abuseNathan Birdsall, University of Central Lancashire and Scott Keay, University of Central Lancashire Anyone with experience of abuse will know that “violence” is only one form of exercising control. Growing evidence shows the negative effect of other behaviours, like coercion and psychological manipulation. Recent legislation, such as Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 prohibits “coercive and controlling behaviour”, and is a welcome addition to existing law and a step forward in combating the wide range of domestic abuse criminality. However, the effectiveness of such legislation is often dependent on identifying and recognising abuse, especially so that it can be reported to the police. While a lot of abuse might happen behind closed doors, the recent popularity of reality TV shows like Love Island, The Only Way is Essex (Towie) and Ex on the Beach have heightened our exposure to the intimate relationships of strangers, and the signs which point to abuse.
Domestic abuse in lawCoercive and controlling behaviour has gained traction as the real danger within most domestic abuse cases and it was criminalised in December 2015. The law makes it illegal to engage in a pattern of abusive behaviour, such as intimidation, control and humiliation used to harm or frighten the victim, and can result in up to five years imprisonment. Older laws show our evolving understanding of domestic abuse and how to tackle it, starting with the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and progressing through the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and 2003, Criminal Damages Act 1971, and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Collectively, they penalise violence, damage and sexual offences against another person. These laws apply to all, including so-called celebrities in reality TV shows, but there have been numerous controversies about the behaviour of people appearing on them. Since most of the shows are about “love” and intimate partnerships, some of the behaviours displayed on them do fall within the realms of domestic abuse.
Gaslighting and physical violenceLove Island has been making waves, in part, for its unhealthy depiction of relationships. In among the usual barrage of “lad” culture and toxic masculinity, the behaviour of gaslighting has come under particular scrutiny. Gaslighting relates to a tactic whereby an abuser aims to manipulate the victim into doubting his or her own sanity. The term comes from the 1938 play, Gaslight, and was popularised by the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman. The behaviours have become so apparent that it recently resulted in the charity Women’s Aid releasing advice and a statement condemning abusive behaviour within the show. In the show’s case it was a male contestant who was accused of gaslighting a partner, but there are other examples of violence by women in the show that are glossed over as “normal” behaviour, like drink throwing and face slapping. Physically abusive behaviour is prohibited by law. However, the dynamics of reality TV shows, where conflict is encouraged by introducing jealousy and intrigue, legitimises defences such as “they deserved it”, which can cause questionable behaviour to spiral on these shows. The charity ManKind has also released statements condemning such violence within shows like Towie and Geordie Shore.
Read more: Love Island: Adam shows teenagers how not to treat romantic partners