Gas-lighting: Is reality TV normalising abuse to add drama?

*Iain Stirling’s voice* Six days a week the nation has been tuning in to some quality British television, but is reality TV increasingly normalising unhealthy relationship behaviours? *Iain Stirling once again* That doesn’t sound good.

Women’s Aid have issued a warning following the response to ITV 2’s popular show Love Island.

This series baddie is currently unaware of the backlash his actions have prompted, unbeknown to him and his newest fling the consequences to his behaviour are lasting longer than former flames speech.

The domestic abuse charity have labelled Adam Collard’s treatment of his fellow contestant, Rosie Williams, as a ‘warning sign’.

During a heated argument aired in Tuesday’s episode, where Rosie called out Adam for ignoring her once new contestant Zara had entered the villa, he belittled her feelings and blamed her behaviour for his lack of interest.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said that Adam’s behaviour was not just to be labelled as that of a ‘fuck boy’. She explained that his behaviour exhibited signs of gas-lighting and emotional abuse’.

“On the latest series of Love Island, there are clear warning signs in Adam’s behaviour,” Ghose said. “In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of a pattern of gas-lighting and emotional abuse.

“Last night, Rosie called out Adam’s unacceptable behaviour on the show. We ask viewers to join her in recognising unhealthy behaviour in relationships and speaking out against all forms of domestic abuse – emotional as well as physical. It is only when we make a stand together against abuse in relationships that we will see attitudes change and an end to domestic abuse.”

Cosmopolitan UK decided to use social media to join the conversation, surveying more than 122,000 women – the results were scary but not shocking. It revealed that many young women don’t actually recognise the signs of abuse, particularly emotional abuse.

Is this because reality TV is blurring the lines and making this form of abuse our new normal?

Love Island is not the only reality show to face criticism for broadcasting and normalising such behaviours.

In April Towie was in the firing line after a series episodes left viewers shocked and uncomfortable when shown how some of the males stars spoke to their partners.


The show’s opening disclaimer may maintain that ‘the tans you see may be fake, but the people are all real’. The emotional abuse broadcasted was 100% real, and, a 100% scary.

Viewers voiced their concerns and discomfort about the on-screen behaviour of James ‘Lockie’ Lock and Myles Barnett. Taking to Twitter many fans of the popular show called out the 22nd series for normalising ‘toxic masculinity’.

 Sian Hawkins, campaign manager for domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid commented on the concerns at the time:

“The first two episodes are demonstrations of really nasty, potentially abusive behaviour by some of the central characters towards their girlfriends,” she tells the BBC.

“As part of a pattern of a behaviour, it signals danger.”

Hawkins refers to a scene where Myles called girlfriend Courtney Green a “dirty little dog” in the street after a fellow cast member, Jordan Wright, bragged about flirting with her.

Myles then threw a drink over Jordan before swearing at his girlfriend, calling her a “slag” and walking off.

The scene saw Myles held back by a fellow cast member while launching a verbal attack on his girlfriend in front of countless cameras, seemingly oblivious to how disturbing his outburst was.

Hawkin’s said: “It’s unacceptable that Myles thinks verbal abuse is justified just because Courtney talked to another man,”. 

“It’s the kind of behaviour at Women’s Aid we recognise needs to be called out. If this is normalised by shows like TOWIE, it contributes to a culture that allows those behaviours to become normal as part of a relationship – we want to promote a balance of power.”

After the scenes were publicly challenged on every social media platform TOWIE’s production company Lime Pictures told the BBC that the show aims to ‘reflect the lives of the cast”.

“The producers strive to portray the whole story without censorship or comment whilst being aware that unacceptable behaviour should not go unchallenged,” a statement said.

“This is an ongoing series and we follow developments with our cast and their relationships, but in the episodes that have aired there have been scenes that showed fellow cast members’ criticism and also reflection and apologies from those involved.”

Venomous and controlling scenes, displayed on Love Island and TOWIE, are viewed by thousands of men and women across the world. Broadcasting behaviours such as these normalise and encourage the treatment of women in this way, abuse is not entertainment nor normal.

The use of misogynistic language and attempts to control, isolate and belittle female contestants and cast members. In one particular scene aired earlier this year TV favourite Lockie said: ‘do not start having opinions!’. 

The gender balance on mainstream  TV needs to stray from ‘laddy guys who gym’ and ‘submissive women who Instagram’. Each gender is so much more than that, diversity needs to be shown through our screens, drama may get streams but at what cost?

Abuse is not labelled by a fist to the face, physical act or police order, Women’s Aid have used this opportunity to remind all the young women watching that emotional manipulation, gas-lighting and verbal abuse can be just as damaging.

Not every ‘fuck boy’ is an abuser, and nobody is saying that Adam deserves the label. His behaviour has sparked an important conversation much needed when viewing this years reality TV instalments.

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