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Gemma Cairney interview: 'Schoolgirls say Rihanna deserved it'

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Gemma Cairney, Bruising Silence for Radio 1

© BBC

"If I had my way, I would have this documentary played out in secondary schools," DJ Gemma Cairney says of tonight's (August 13) Radio 1 programme on abuse in youth relationships. "I really feel like as many young people as possible need to listen to it."

Radio 1 Stories: Bruised Silence explores the issue of physical and emotional abuse in teen relationships, an issue thrust into the public consciousness after Chris Brown admitted assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009.

We spoke to Gemma about why she feels this subject demands discussion, and why Radio 1 is the best place to hold the conversation.

What's this programme all about?
"It's a wide investigation into all sorts of abuse in young relationships. Whenever you see abuse, especially physical abuse, represented in the media, it's always with a marital couple or someone older. It's something that's a big problem with teenagers as well. Lots of young people fall in love and emotions run high, and sometimes that's abused."

Is this something that's getting worse?
"I think it's always been a problem. If you open this subject up and ask, a lot of people can identify. Not necessarily themselves. Maybe a sibling or someone they knew at school from a young age was in a relationship that was volatile and potentially violent - and definitely not healthy."

The stats in the NSPCC/Home Office study were shocking - how can we tackle this?
"Young people need to know that it's a problem. There needs to be someone telling them that this isn't right. You get so wrapped up in your own world, your own bubble, your own life, your day-to-day, who your friends are, who your boyfriend is, who you fancy, who you want to think you're amazing - that's what you get really obsessed with.

"I don't think it's a very discussed subject. As soon as we open the box a bit, then if you are a teenager and you're getting smacked about by your boyfriend or girlfriend then you may realise that it really isn't right."

Are young men especially reticent about talking about being abused by their girlfriends?
"Yeah, it's such a complicated, sticky, really, really sad and hard, dark subject to explore. I think guys would definitely find it hard to admit that their girlfriend could be abusing them. It's shocking but it happens and it needs to be discussed. There's a lot that goes on behind closed doors."

What did you think about the way Chris Brown's assault of Rihanna was reported by the wider media at the time?
"Everybody was pretty gobsmacked, really. You can't get away from looking at someone's face when it's absolutely beaten to a pulp. We read a lot of words, but when you see the picture, there's not really much more to say, is there? Except that it was absolutely horrific.

Rihanna and Chris Brown perform at Z100's Annual Jingle Ball Concert at Madison Square Gardens in New York City, USA 12.12.08
Credit: (Mandatory): WENN.com

© WENN.com



"As to what played out afterwards, it's really difficult to know really what went on or what is going on because it's so personal, but it's been played out in the public eye. I personally, I think... he's pretty awful.

"I feel pretty confused by the fact that he's been forgiven in the public eye. I don't know. I'm not here to focus on their relationship. I'm here to discuss that what happened to Rihanna happens to a lot of people. That should be something that should be discussed."

What's so surprising is some of Chris Brown's female fans, especially on Twitter, victim-blaming Rihanna and saying things like, 'I wouldn't mind if Chris Brown hit me'.
"It actually breaks my heart, it really, really does."

Does that illustrate the extent of the problem?
"That's exactly when I decided I wanted to make the programme. There were two girls in front of me in their school uniforms in the pound shop in East London where I live. One of them turned round to the other and said, 'Did you hear what happened to Rihanna?' The other one said. 'No, I didn't'. And she said, 'Chris Brown beat her up'. And she said, 'I bet she deserved it, anyway'.

"They were really young and it does actually break my heart. I really do feel strongly about it from some of my own experiences and I just feel that is completely unacceptable and saddening. I wanted to investigate why people would say something like that and demonstrate how serious it is."

Should Radio 1 have more non-music content like this to get young people thinking?
"There is so much going on in that building and it's so exciting to be there and I love it. This was a project I came to the documentary commissioning team with myself only in the trust that they would take it seriously because Radio 1 really does care about all its listeners and does take its responsibility seriously.

Greg James, Gemma Cairney and Jameela Jamil

© BBC

Aled Haydn Jones

© BBC



"We do a lot of social action. I work with Aled [Haydn Jones] on the surgery and we do simulcasts on 1xtra... we've done really meaty bits of programming where it's really nitty gritty and it's gruesome and it's really base-level honest. We have experts and psychologists.

"I think that the surgery is really the beating heart of what Radio 1 is. It's a place where people will listen every Sunday 9 to 11pm to get advice on anything that's going wrong in their lives... things that are making them feel really upset.

"I think there's something magic about that, that they feel free to do that. I do think that support network's there, and it's from those roots that I decided that we could do an hour-long doc on one specific subject that I felt really strongly about."

Gemma Cairney presents Radio 1 Stories: Bruising Silence at 9pm tonight (Monday, August 13) on BBC Radio 1

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