lie detector

"We'll let you see the aftercare team now"- How TV gives false promise of support in absence of services.


WORDS: Punk Food Bandita

ITV have announced that The Jeremy Kyle show has been permanently axed following the news that a 63 year old man has committed suicide after he failed a lie detector test that he took on the show. There have been concerns about the Jeremy Kyle show and the way its participants are looked after following their appearance on the show for years and several individual cases from past episodes have risen to the surface yet again amid to uproar over the latest incident.

As a domestic abuse worker, I’ve had personal dealings with their staff who on one occasion ignored my warnings not to have a couple on the show, despite me pointing out that putting two alcohol dependant people in a hotel together where domestic abuse has been a strong feature when there was a current non molestation order in place that prohibited contact was a recipe for disaster and highly irresponsible.

His general treatment and lack of understanding of victims of domestic abuse has been concerning to me for over a decade, something I have confronted the makers of the show with directly before. His approach ranges from outright victim blaming:  “and you’re just as bad for allowing him to do it” he once screeched in the face of a 17 year old woman who’s violent partner had made her shave her head so other men didn’t find her attractive, to squaring up to perpetrators of domestic abuse, insulting them and winding them up behind the shoulder of Steve, his head of security. Kyle is like the kid in school who would chat shit at people despite having the backbone of gummy bear, before cowering behind their harder mate so they didn’t have to deal with the consequences.

Watching Jeremy Kyle is like watching eighties kids gameshow, Knightmare, but remade by Shane Meadows, where Kyle is cast as the spiteful imp who creeps on the side of the stage and talks in riddles before luring people to their doom. It’s an orchestra of misery in which he is the conductor.

When discussing the show, people often remark to me “I don’t know why people would lower themselves to go on it”. I do. I get it completely. I’ve had people I know personally consider contacting them. To watch someone on the show who might have the same problems as yourself, it can seem like an option when you are desperate for help. When you see Kyle playing the hero as he practically wrestles someone into a car to take them to residential rehab, they know that might be their only chance to access such a service. 

With mental health and addiction services being systematically destroyed by the government, people are naturally going to look at other ways they can access help. The situation in my city is heart-breaking, as it is right across the country. When someone gets to that point when they know they need help- usually when they are in crisis- they are put on a waiting list and left to disappear into a database. One of the main mental health providers in the area I work in has a waiting list of over a  year. A year. When the people needing them don’t know whether they will be alive in the morning.

Going on the Jeremy Kyle Show doesn’t seem like such an insane option when your Prime Minister is telling you everything is going to be okay because she’s going to light her fucking house up green to “raise awareness” or something.

Similarly, most people experiencing domestic abuse just want it to stop. They want the person they fell in love with back. They don’t want to have to call the police, to leave their house carrying their babies still sleeping in their pyjamas in the middle of the night to live in a town they’d never even heard of before, with one set of clothes each and a toy. The person hurting them tells them they just need “the right help” or need their partner to take that lie detector test and they will do anything to get them that.

Commenters say they must have no dignity left to go on the show and there is a tendancy to make them out as hopeless desperate waifs. ‘Human bear baiting’ is the phrase I keep hearing. Honestly, it’s a bit patronising. Of course they have dignity and of course they care about how they are perceived. Some are encouraged to play up for the cameras, others make it quite clear they don’t wish to be there but saw no other resolution to their problem. Some are naïve and you can see they don’t quite comprehend what life will be like after their appearance. Do you understand what courage that must take to put yourself on public display like that, knowing they might be given the very worst news of their life on stage to an audience of millions? But no. By all means keep taking the piss out of their teeth and how messy their lives are compared to yours. A staggering amount of people who appear on the show have been through the care system, and are already horribly used to complete strangers witnessing, commenting on and analysing every detail of their lives with no thought for how they might feel about that.

Most of the comments I have seen defending the show have been along the lines of “It’s not Jeremy’s fault the man killed himself” “shouldn’t have cheated then should he” “It’s because he was proven to be a liar, the show have aftercare”. These are the same people who would have screamed for blood at the side of the gladiator pits. I’m not here to discuss the details of the man in questions life. Or even the validity of lie detector tests, which research shows aren’t nearly as accurate as the show makes out. It doesn’t matter who the person was, they didn’t deserve that and victim blaming would have been present no matter who it was. Remember the episode where a male victim of domestic violence told how he had to jump out of a window after his female partner locked him in the house and the audience laughed? 

It doesn’t matter that Kyle himself challenged them on it. The damage was already done and he created the conditions that allowed that to happen.

From what I have seen their aftercare has not been nearly adequate. Anger management is offered to perpetrators of domestic violence, which has been proven not to work, as people who are abusive to their partners don’t have an anger problem- they have a control problem. Similarly for survivors, counselling should always be something that’s offered, but alongside practical support, such as safety planning, help with civil orders, extra security on homes. Mediation often isn’t deemed suitable where domestic abuse is a feature because it can be dangerous even in a controlled environment.

And the show is far from a controlled environment. Kyle has a habit of doing two things where domestic abuse is disclosed. Allowing himself to be manipulated by the abuser and becoming their best mate on stage, trying to portray that there’s been “wrong done on both sides”. Or he deliberately agitates someone known to be violent. He gets in their face and publically insults and ridicules them, all while hiding behind security. What exactly do you think will happen when he then sends the couple home away from the cameras? It will never be Kyle who pays the price for his behaviour.

Following the show’s cancellation assurances need to made to those who have previously appeared on the show that are still dealing with the fallout and that the kind of support that has been offered is improved upon and does not disappear with the show because their lives will still be affected regardless of whether it continues.