Last year's Love Island got us talking about the refugee crisis, and overly possessive behaviour in relationships. Now the latest series has sparked a conversation about gaslighting and hidden forms of emotional abuse. 

And sure, it’s just a TV programme. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a great platform for raising awareness of issues that impact us IRL, too. 

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The charity Women’s Aid issued a warning after Tuesday’s episode, which saw contestant Rosie Williams calling out fellow contestant Adam Collard’s behaviour.

The charity’s chief executive Katie Ghose said Adam’s behaviour showed “clear warning signs” of a relationship drifting into domestic abuse. 

“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 gaslighting and emotional abuse,” she said in a statement. 

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“Last night, Rosie called out Adam’s unacceptable behaviour on the show,” she added. “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,” she said. 

For anyone who hasn’t jumped on the nationwide obsession with Love Island, here’s a (very) brief rundown of what happened. 

Adam and Rosie were — to a degree — happily coupled up until the arrival of a new contestant, Zara McDermott. 

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As a result of Zara’s arrival, Rosie told Adam that she felt he was ignoring her, and he replied he didn’t “need to reassure” her, reported the BBC. Adam then said Rosie was on the “defence” and that, while he did fancy Zara, it hadn't meant anything until Rosie “acted like a child.” 

Later in the episode, Rosie told Adam his actions had really hurt her. 

“I don’t think you have any idea how much you’ve really hurt me, and really upset me,” Rosie said. “And the worst thing is I don’t think you actually care.” 

“I shared a night with you that I wouldn’t spend with anyone unless they meant something to me,” she added. “I trusted you… and you’ve literally had what you wanted and ditched me 12 hours later.” 

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As Rosie talked, Adam smiled without saying anything. 

“You’ve got a girl, actually sitting here, telling you that you’ve actually really hurt her and she hasn’t done anything wrong, I haven’t deserved this,” she added. “Why are you rolling your eyes? 

For many viewers the episode will have seemed all too familiar, which is why Women’s Aid made its statement.

The practice known as “gaslighting” is essentially a power-play, making a person question their reality — for example, making someone think that what they perceive as a problem in a relationship is “all in their head.” 

According to the National Domestic Violence hotline, gaslighting “is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abuse partner a lot of power.”

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“Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions,” it adds, “the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.” 

Sure, to hold up Love Island as an example of “real life relationships” may seem trivial, but the show broke records when it launched with an average 2.9 million viewers last month — the highest ever for an ITV2 show. That figure is more than double last year’s launch — and more than last season’s finale, too. 

The reality is that this programme is being watched in households across the country. What we see as relationships on TV can normalise the type of behaviour we allow in our relationships in real life, and Love Island’s significant audience reach provides a great platform to identify problematic behaviour, call it out, and spark a nationwide conversation. 

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Speaking toThis Morning, Ghose said she realised Love Island is an “artificial environment” but if behaviour like Adam’s happened repeatedly in a real relationship it could be a “form of emotional abuse.” 

Of course, it’s sparked a huge debate online. Many are speaking up for Rosie, emphasising that “we’ve all been there.” Others are defending Adam’s behaviour, saying he’s just playing the Love Island game. 

It’s not the first time that Women’s Aid has raised concerns over the show’s content, and how it reflects “real world” domestic abuse. 

In 2017, Polly Neate, the charity’s then-chief executive, wrote a blog for HuffPost UK on Jonny’s “possessive and controlling” attitude to Tyla. 

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“For a survivor of domestic abuse watching, it would have been a chilling moment,” she wrote. “The underlying sentiment was that this man believes he owns this woman. Often batted away as ‘laddish behaviour’, or ‘just a phrase’, in isolation one comment seems innocuous. But it’s not.”

“Statements like this normalise the objectification of women and men’s power over us,” she added. “They normalise sexism so that we accept it.” 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse from a partner, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 24/7 for free on 0808 2000 247.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on gender equality. You can join us by taking action here to support women and girls around the world in achieving their potential. 


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'Love Island' Is Called Out by Women's Charity for Domestic Abuse 'Warning Signs'

By Imogen Calderwood