Love Island is exposing the dangers of what controlling relationships look like, many people struggle to see the early warning signs of emotional abuse, but if viewers of this reality show look hard enough they will see them, the clues are all there.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse but it was only when I was out of that situation that I could see the red flags quite clearly. When I first met the offender, he was so charming. He was a cheeky chappie with the bluest eyes and the cheekiest smile. He made me feel at ease and so relaxed around him. Everyone seemed to know him, he was so popular and we couldn’t go anywhere without someone stopping us in the street to speak to us and say hello. In a short space of time, he had put me on a pedestal and made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
I moved into his flat with him two weeks after meeting him, he was still charming, but his subtle controlling behaviour crept in without me noticing it. He didn’t want me to spend time with my mum and one day said, don’t see you mum today if you love me you won’t go. I didn’t think too much of it as we snuggled up together on the settee watching a film but soon after if I ever contacted her there would always be consequences that I would have to pay, physically and verbally. He made humiliating and degrading comments about the clothes I wore and when I went out with my friends without him, he would bombard me with calls, text messages and phone calls. It was just easier to stay at home. I was isolated and taken away from my support network.
“For entertainment, people are watching an artificial scenario where intense relationships are made.”
After escaping the offender I existed with, I now raise awareness for others to enhance their understanding and knowledge of domestic abuse. In May 2009 I set up a support group called SODA (Survivors of Domestic Abuse), which raises awareness, reduces isolation and supports others. It is already difficult to explain to my service users that what they are experiencing is domestic abuse, they are being controlled and they don’t see it as abuse. For me, the most important key message I want to get across is, domestic abuse is more than a bruise, it’s about power and control, not physical violence alone. It is important to share this message because all too often people don’t think they are being abused because they aren’t physically being hit.
For entertainment, people are watching an artificial scenario where intense relationships are made. Contestants are subject to scrutiny and criticism whilst being thrown into intense romantic and platonic relationships. Reality shows have become popular, producing and offering ordinary people to become known and famous. The audience watches the journey, that transitions from ordinary to find their true self or true love, and it’s done in an unrealistic manner. In real life we don’t form real life relationships this way. My main concern is that we are normalising emotional abuse as entertainment, where young viewers have their understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships influenced by what they see.
“It could be a good way to have meaningful conversations with our children.”
Watching the first episode of the new series of Love Island, the first red flag I noticed was how the contestants weren’t even in control of their own “relationship” and secondly, the love bombing. This is a tactic used to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection. We have to remember that love takes time to develop, but in this instance, we have people paying each other compliments immediately, putting them on a pedestal and the relationship is always a whirlwind of emotions.
I reluctantly watched the episode with my daughter, but it could be a good way to have meaningful conversations with our children. We can’t hide from the fact that Love Island is a hot topic on our social media feed and there are ways and means our children can watch it whether we want them to or not. There’s still lots of conversations to be had around body standards and mental health issues but if Love Island is the way forward, producers must take much more responsibility, not only for their contestants but for their audience too.
This programme could be a trigger warning for some or some viewers might be seeing these signs for the first time in their own relationship, at least put Women’s Aid and Mankind Initiative helplines on during the breaks or at the end of the programme.
About the Author
Samantha Billingham is the founder of SODA. SODA raises awareness, reduces isolation and supports those who have, or who are experiencing domestic abuse. SODA provides an online safe haven for those who are experiencing domestic abuse, to come together without judgement. SODA educates employers to empower their employees to enhance their understanding and knowledge of domestic abuse. Samantha is part of Sounddelivery Media’s 2022 Spokesperson Programme.