Journalist, Writer and Researcher Rianna Raymond-Williams explores domestic violence in her animated short film.

I know He Loves Me is a short film animation that centers around the experience of the character Ava a young black female experiencing Intimate Partner Violence. The short film aims to shine a light on the fact that domestic abuse is not only physical but also emotional, sexual, and financial, which can be more difficult to identify. 

The film comes from Rianna Raymond-Williams and her organisation Shine Aloud UK (SAUK) whose aim is to raise awareness around the need for culturally sensitive and appropriate resources to address sexual health and relationships like the short film. 

We spoke to Rianna about Shine Aloud UK, its aim in helping young people recognise domestic violence in the relationships they have…

Please introduce yourself…

Hi, my name is Rianna Raymond-Williams, I am a writer, researcher, and social entrepreneur from East London. I identify as being Black British, my heritage is Jamaican. For the last 10 years, I freelance as a journalist writing for The Voice Newspaper, Black Ballad, and The Independent and work as a sexual health advisor and researcher. Also, I’ve just secured a studentship to study for my Ph.D. in 2021 where I’ll be exploring how black women in the UK make sense of their sexual identity. Which I’m really looking forward to.

What word or sentence best describes your life right now?

Slowly stepping into blessings.

You are a Sexual Health Practitioner and Shine Aloud UK (SAUK) director please can you tell us what SAUK is and who it is for?

Shine ALOUD UK (SAUK) uses creative media and peer-led training to empower young people and adults to work with young people to make informed choices about their sexual wellness – which in turn helps to create and promote better sexual health outcomes. Over the last few years, we have secured a few contracts with Erasmus to run international exchanges and training programs with young people in Europe working with colleagues in Romania, Turkey, Poland, Italy, and Greece. Unfortunately, COVID has stopped us from traveling but we have been doing what we can remotely.

As a sexual health advisor for the NHS, I provide STI and HIV results to patients, initiate partner notification following positive STI or HIV results where I anonymously inform some of our patient’s recent sexual partners to get tested and treated if they don’t feel comfortable to do so. I also encourage safe sex messaging, and provide contraceptive advice alongside making any social care or safeguarding referrals depending on the need of patients. Like many young people, I needed a part-time job during college, but retail was way too overwhelming for me to continue working in. I found the customers and managers way too rude and ungrateful so thankfully I managed to secure a job working with the Terrence Higgins Trust as a Sexual Health Assistant working on a National Chlamydia Screening Programme in London which aimed to control chlamydia through early detection through testing and treatment thereby reducing onward transmission and the consequences of untreated infection.

Alongside this role, I also became a peer educator for a local sexual health steering group in my borough called Shine Newham where I was supported by two amazing youth workers. Both of these experiences allowed me to see that there was a lack of youth-friendly resources for young people to access that enabled them to learn about sexual health, which then motivated me to create Shine ALOUD magazine. Ironically it was meant to be a project I worked on just for a little while between getting my A-Level results and going to university, but nearly 10 years on it has developed into so much more.

I Know He Loves Me is an animation about domestic abuse, it focuses on what is called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), a form of abuse that is not only physical but both mental and emotional. Can you explain how the character Ava experiences this and how easy it is for young people to fall into this form of abuse?

A lot of young people notice abuse when it’s physical because they can see a bruise or a cut. When abuse is emotional and psychological it’s harder to identify and talk about because it presents in ways you can’t necessarily see, but definitely feel and unfortunately can impact you a lot longer than physical abuse. Things like controlling behaviour, where someone stops you from seeing friends or family or talks you out of doing things you enjoy should not be confused for love and care which is often how an abusive partner continues being emotionally abusive. There are things that an abusive partner says and does over a period of time that slowly begins to eat away at your self-esteem. Unfortunately, a lot of people shrug it off. People who experience this type of abuse may go on to experience high levels of depression and find it difficult to make and maintain healthy relationships, so we all need to be more vigilant.

Why did you choose animation as the medium to tell this story?

I really like animation and I think it is a really powerful tool. Interestingly I think there’s not as much weight on characters in animation, whereas with real-life actors people will comment on how well an actor looks aesthetically, acts – in terms of their skills and behaviour which then influences how well they present the story. However, with an animation of course it has to be visually engaging, but I think the willingness to listen and receive the information is different. All the motions and expressions are computerised and I feel people are a lot less judgmental and critical. Also, considering COVID restrictions and the budget I had to create the content for the animation it actually worked a lot better.

How did you go about making the film- finding an animator, casting the voice actors, etc?

Thankfully I have a wide and diverse network of amazing creatives. The animator for this project is someone I’ve known for a few years and had always wanted to work with, he runs a company called Global Media Visuals. So when the opportunity came up to make this film I contacted him straight away and he was happy to be on board. I held a small focus group with black and mixed-race women who spoke with me about their experiences of IPV which helped to inform the script and really made me want to focus on emotional and psychological violence in intimate relationships. I then worked with black and mixed-race women writers to help shape the copy of the script. Lastly, I did the voice over. I had plans to hire a female to record the voiceover in a studio, but COVID shut that down, unfortunately, so I had to work with what I had.

Did you have any film references to inspire the direction of the animation?

Yes, I really like The Story of Jay that was produced a few years ago by the NSPCC, which shines a light on grooming and exploitation, and the animation by Childline – Layla’s Forced Marriage. I think both scripts are really powerful and engaging and they are resources I continue to use today when I work with young people. I think the transitions in the animation are really sharp and the stories told really well.

What did you have to consider differently making an animated film in comparison to making a live-action film with real actors?

As much as I’d love to have created a film, we didn’t have to worry about locations, weather, props, or actors, just the script, the voiceovers, the transitions, and what the key scenes would be to make the content visually engaging. The fact things can all be done digitally is amazing and gives you a lot of creative freedom to tell a story.

I Know He Loves Me officially launched in September in line with Sexual Health Week in the UK. But this subject matter is one that is and should constantly be in conversation. In recent months domestic abuse has been highlighted due to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions. What advice would you give young people who are experiencing domestic abuse at this time?

You do not have to suffer in silence. We all have a right to be safe and protected and there are support services available. If you are in immediate danger call the police on 999, but there are a range of services such as Sistah Space, Nia, The London Black Women’s Project, Imkaan that support women and girls from black and minoritised communities who are experiencing domestic abuse. There are also other services such as National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Women’s Aid, and Hestia that can provide support too

I want to point out that anyone can experience domestic abuse regardless of their age, gender, ability, or faith, but Black and minoritised women can experience increased risks of abuse due to entrenched systems of discrimination and barriers to accessing care and support some of which include, language differences, concerns about confidentiality, and cultural stigmas which is the reason we created the short animation to shine a light on this issue for Black women.

We have also seen a spike in those in the entertainment industry being exposed or accused of being abusers and predators. What can the entertainment industry do better to educate celebrities caught up in these situations and their victims/accusers?

I would like to think that we all understand what abuse is and how it presents, but the reality is this not the case. There are some people who have been victims of abuse, so as a result become perpetrators of abuse. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone. I think there is a lack of accountability that exists amongst certain groups of people which leaves predatory behaviour unchecked and unchallenged and often when people have money and power they often get away with these crimes. We need to empower everyone, specifically victim-survivors and those who may be vulnerable to abuse to seek support where possible. But ultimately we need to challenge and eradicate learned behaviour that is abusive, violent, and toxic and has the potential to ruin lives long-term, which I feel can only happen through education and regular conversations which I hope this short animation helps to start.

There is a stigma around male abuse victims they often are embarrassed or too ashamed to admit that they’ve been abused by women or men How do we support young men experiencing abuse?

As I said earlier we need to talk about it a lot more about domestic abuse and provide safe spaces for those who are experiencing abuse to feel comfortable to disclose what is really happening to them. Domestic abuse can and does happen to anyone, it isn’t only something that happens amongst heterosexual couples – in terms of men abusing women or vice versa, abuse can and does also exist in same-sex relationships and is just as harmful. So of course men do experience abuse, but due to the toxic ideas society has about masculinity, some men aren’t afforded the space to be seen as vulnerable and in need of support and protection. Ultimately, we need to strengthen the pathways that exist for everyone experiencing abuse to access support. Unfortunately, abuse doesn’t immediately stop even when you leave a perpetrator so it’s important that those who want to leave have a plan and are able to go to a safe place. But also have access to ongoing support from professionals.

Would you consider another animation highlighting the ways in which men are abused?

Of course, I think this is important and not something we hear or see often, but that doesn’t mean it is not happening. There is room to create more content about the stories and experiences we don’t see and this is what I’m really hoping to work on going forward. I’m looking forward to connecting with more creative people to do this work, as well as speaking with people who have lived experiences of domestic abuse so I can work with them to shine a light on their stories.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Yes – more short films and animations coming soon, I won’t say too much right now, but there are a lot of things I’m working on behind the scenes for the new year and beyond so this is just the beginning.

What are you looking forward to this Christmas season?

Ultimately taking some time out to just switch off from work and be with my family. This year has been tough for everyone so I just want to really chill out as much as possible and take some time for me.


GETTING TO KNOW YOU

  • A book you have to have in your collection? I’m dyslexic so I buy loads of books with the intention to read but don’t often get around to. My bookshelf is crammed with so many amazing books, but part of my dyslexia is that I have a terrible short-term memory so reading on paper isn’t great. Earlier this year I downloaded Audible and it has literally changed my life – I’ve been reading non-stop. So 3 great books I’ve read this year would have to be: Free Cytonia – By Cyntoia Brown, Rapthology – By Wretch 32, They Was Us – Gabriel Krauze.
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? I love Craig David’s Born to Do it album, maybe because it’s one of the first albums I listened to. But I think the title reflects how I feel right now.
  • A film/TVshow that you have watched/can watch repeatedly? Moesha and Power – I watch them on repeat all the time.
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? Good Dog by Arinze Kene was amazing. It’s not the first production, because I can’t actually remember that far back, but it’s most likely to have been a pantomime, but definitely the last before COVID. I really loved how Arinze was able to communicate the dilemma of doing good when you’re faced with so much bad in the form of injustice.
  • What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad – The death of a young boy locally in East London – I’m always upset about the death of kids on our streets. Mad – I’m not often mad, to be honest, but I was annoyed that I missed my delivery from Amazon. Glad – To have the opportunity to be interviewed and talk about my work, especially because it’s usually me interviewing someone else.

To keep up with Rianna find her on Twitter. Find out more about Shine ALOUD UK (SAUK) here

I Know He Loves Me is available to watch on YouTube