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Love Island is unintentionally shining a light on domestic abuse


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In the wake of the suicide of two Love Island contestants within a year, it is clear that the show has a problem with welfare.

On top of this, disturbing patterns of behaviour are beginning to emerge in the show’s latest outing, with gaslighting, manipulation and possessiveness bringing a disturbing dimension to the show’s latest ‘love triangle’.

From the very first episode of this year’s Love Island, the whole of the UK seemed to be rooting for Lucie and Joe. Joe was the sweet, loveable sandwich-maker who lavished Lucie with affection from day one, and was exactly the type of person Lucie described as her 'perfect man'. Their budding relationship seemed to follow a fairy-tale-type perfection, with both of them gushing over the other whilst the other islanders reinforced the idea that, already, they were the strongest couple in the show. They seemed destined for each other. That is, unfortunately, also how most abusive relationships start. 

Image courtesy of ITV 

In this case, the cracks began to show with the appearance of Tommy Fury; a contestant designed to ‘shake things up’ by choosing a girl to ‘couple up’ with himself, thereby breaking up an already established couple. This wasn’t an unusual move for the show: it is engineered every year by producers to stir up a little bit of jealousy and animosity amongst the boys because it is guaranteed to make good TV.

So, it came to no surprise that, in the subsequent episode, Joe wasn’t best pleased by Tommy’s growing interest in Lucie. Every conversation they had, it seemed as if Joe wasn’t far behind; keeping a watchful eye out.

But it’s normal for him to feel a bit insecure, right? The viewers and other Islanders seemed to think so, with several of them expressing pity, but this all changed once Tommy decided to ‘couple up’ with Lucie for good and take her on a ‘date’.

From here onwards, Joe’s behaviour shifted from underlying insecurity to a borderline unhealthy obsession. He storms off, seemingly heartbroken at the thought of Lucie being taken away from him. We should, however, bear in mind that two have only known each other for about 48 hours. Regardless of how well they have got along in that time, the reaction is disproportionate to the context.  

A healthy relationship should, at this stage, still be about getting to know one another and keeping one’s options open. It certainly doesn’t involve possessiveness or any sense of ‘ownership’. Although a small pang of jealousy at this stage is expected, it shouldn’t manifest to the level Joe got to. Unfortunately, following Lucie’s return from the date, Joe’s behaviour got worse.

Following her date with Tommy, the confused Lucie decided to sleep alone on the sofas, despite Joe repeatedly trying to pressure her into sleeping in the same bed as him. He is shown to have minimal regard to what Lucie wants in this situation, clearly believing his needs are more important than hers, and is subsequently outraged when she doesn’t accommodate.

The following day, a lot of Lucie’s actions seem to be determined by a desire to ‘not upset’ Joe. In other words, she is being made to feel that she has to behave in the way Joe wants her to behave, or otherwise risk losing the relationship as a whole. So, 72 hours in, we can already see how Joe has successfully managed to get Lucie under his control through emotional manipulation, as he is making her feel guilty and cautious of her ‘coupling’ with Tommy despite the fact that she has no control over it. By making her feel guilty for something that isn’t her fault, he is putting himself in a position of absolute power, as she makes her feel as if she must desperately get him to forgive her for something she didn’t even do. 

Although this behaviour is picked up by the other islanders as being a bit ‘intense’ and having the potential to ‘scare Lucie off’, they seem to misunderstand the gravity of the situation. For example, when Lucie innocently mentions her and Joe’s kiss, his tone instantly changes from the nice-guy persona to an interrogative force, as he demands to know who she kissed. It comes to a head towards the end of the episode when Joe accuses Lucie of ‘keeping her options open’.

Again, 72 hours into the show, this isn’t an unreasonable thing to do, but Joe paints it as a deep betrayal and a sign of disloyalty. He tells her that she has damaged his trust in her by going on a compulsory date with Tommy, which is again a successful tactic he uses to make her feel guilty. Ultimately, he succeeds in painting her as the villain and breaking her confidence, as she breaks down in tears due to the guilt.

The worst part is, however, that this damaging behaviour has manifested within three days. How much worse would it get further down the line? Coercive control is often overlooked as a form of domestic abuse, but just because it doesn’t leave a physical mark, that doesn’t mean it is any less abusive. In fact, it is a lot more common than we think: more than a third (34%) of the UK population admit to being in this kind of relationship, with an additional 53% reporting that they have experienced bullying and controlling behaviour at the hands of their partner. Subsequently, with this type of abuse being so common, it isn’t surprising that it is now playing out on national television.

Reality TV often shines a relentless, honest and unforgiving spotlight on things, so perhaps now the UK will stand to attention: noticing the signs of emotional abuse and working more proactively to stop it.

Lead image courtesy of ITV

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