830 not a reference

Young people's attitudes towards violence and relationships

By Sarah Hobbs

February 7th will see young people, decision makers and practitioners come together in the Houses of Parliament to discuss issues of violence against women. It will form a space to raise awareness, question, explore and encourage action. As a part of the global One Billion Rising movement to prevent gender-based violence, the event is supported by Stella Creasy MP.

It would seem a poignant time at which to push for a national overhaul given the news from Delhi, Tahrir Square, and indeed Britain: in 1998, a UK study found[1] that one in two young men and one in three young women believed there to be some circumstances where it was acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

In 2005, a survey found[2] that almost half of teenage girls thought it acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards his partner, and a 2009 study[3] found that a third of teenage girls in relationships had experienced unwanted sexual acts, with one in 16 having been raped.

Two women die per week in the UK as a result of domestic-related violence, accounting for 40% of all female homicide victims[4]. In the US, this statistic is three per day.[5]

Surveys, reports and literature, based on the opinions of thousands of teenagers, all seem to point to the same conclusion: there is a very high tolerance for accepting or condoning violence in relationships, particularly amongst young people. This is translating into alarming realities.

These complex issues ultimately lead to two questions: how have things got so bad, and what can we, collectively, do about it?

Many reports have been critical of the government’s lean towards judicial matters rather than having a more preventative outlook.

In schools, where education can naturally address this, there are two main issues:

1. A lack of confidence/support

Regardless of impetus, schools and teachers are often reticent to introduce these issues because of a lack of confidence and support. Although resources do exist, it is still a big step to begin exploring such sensitive and complex issues, and as yet it is not compulsory to discuss violence against women and related issues as part of the curriculum. The topics fit into the ‘either do it well or not at all’ bracket. Teacher training programmes are available however, helping to increase teacher confidence, background knowledge and an awareness of how to approach the issues. Have a look at Women’s Aid, AVA Project, and the White Ribbon Campaign, just for starters.

2. Issues are seen as ‘targeted’

It is sometimes the case that if these issues are taught in schools at all, they are taught to a cherrypicked group of pupils seen as ‘targets’ or ‘potential victims.’ Should violence against women be seen only as an issue for women? Should forced marriage be seen only as an issue for Asians? In general, we need to move past this approach and begin addressing all issues collectively, but sensitively, as a school or local community.

All studies referenced here (plus many, many more) show that young people want to know more; want to be better informed and don’t think the current setup equips them well enough. THERE is the impetus to move things along.

Please pick up the gauntlet and email ONE of your local primary or secondary schools, or the school you used to attend, to encourage them to begin using the Women’s Aid Expect Respect toolkit. Share with friends, family, colleagues.

While addressing the issues is a good step, thumbs up to Wales who have taken the more preventative, and positive, approach of teaching about healthy relationships. We seem to be a way off this yet in England - but hopefully not for long. 

We simply cannot have another generation of young people believing and accepting violence to be the norm.  

If you’re interested in knowing more, please see: maslaha.org/obr.

*Update 30th Jan* A Parliamentary debate and vote for requiring sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools throughout England has now been confirmed to take place on 14th February 2013, the One Billion Rising global day of action. Encourage your own MP to attend! More info and letter/email template: http://obruk.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/ask-your-mp-to-support-one-billion-rising/ 


[1] ‘Young people’s attitudes towards violence, sex and relationships’ 1998, Zero Tolerance (http://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/)

[2] ‘Teen abuse survey of Great Britain’ 2005, NSPCC/Sugar magazine

[3] ‘Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships’ 2009, NSPCC/University of Bristol

[4] ‘Crime in England and Wales 2003-4’ Home Office Statistical Bulletin 10/04

[5] ‘Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001’ February 2003, US Government