The lack of awareness around this issue can be explained, to ... - AVA

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    Policy Briefing April 2009

    This briefing refers to the issues faced by teenagers experiencing domestic violence in their own intimate relationships and gives details of two innovative new projects. For further information on any of the issues covered in this briefing please contact

Teenagers and domestic violence

    Domestic violence is often conceptualised as an ‘adult’ issue, something that happens between adults who are in, or have been, in an intimate relationship and research has tended to focus more on these relationships. In actual fact, adolescents experience similar levels of domestic violence as adults.

It is also clear that domestic violence is still somewhat of a ‘hidden’ issue in our

    society; however, it is even more so for teenagers. This is exacerbated by the fact that adolescents are more acceptant of, and dismissive about, this form of 1behaviour than their adult counterparts.

    The lack of awareness around this issue can be explained, to some extent, by the following factors:

     Teenage romantic relationships can often be short-lived but they are

    experienced as intensely as adult relationships, unfortunately parents and

    professionals do not always take these relationships seriously enough.

     Adolescent’s can be more susceptible to gender-role stereotypes and can be

    confused about what their role is within society.

     Because of a lack of experience in constructing healthy relationships and

    because of their peer group norms it can be difficult for them to judge their

    partner’s behaviour as being abusive

     Teenage dating violence is influenced by how teenagers look at themselves

    and others. This is in turn influenced by the media, and their portrayal of

    how we should look and behave. It is now so common to see sexualised

    images of children and young people in music videos, computer games etc

    and violence is also often glamorised in these mediums. When young girls

    are dressed up in playboy outfits, and boys are reading ‘lads mags’ it is no

    wonder that they may have a skewed idea of gender roles.

     First relationships are daunting enough, this can be even more difficult if

    someone is entering into a same sex relationship and does not feel ready to

    tell people yet.

     If they attend the same school, college, youth club as their abuser, this can

    increase their sense of fear and entrapment.

    During the teenage years, young people are influenced by a huge array of factors, which can increase vulnerability and risk. These can include; puberty and hormonal changes, wanting increased autonomy from family, peer pressure, body image and self esteem issues, the influence of the media, an increased capacity for cognitive reasoning etc. These can all influence the types of relationships young people may get into. For instance, if a young person has grown up in a home where domestic

1 Safer Southwark Partnership (2006)

    violence occurs between adults in the household, this may mean the young person is even more likely to seek ‘alternative family’ with their peers. If they are already

    vulnerable, this could lead to someone being at risk of exploitation. Domestic violence in teenage relationships can range from verbal abuse, harassment, sexual assault to murder and as such seems to mirror the continuum of domestic violence 2that we see between adults (Kelly, L).

Prevalence rates

    Several studies on young people’s attitudes towards violence in relationships have been carried out over the past few years. They all seem to agree on a figure of roughly 40% of young people having been affected by domestic violence in their own relationships. 3One such survey carried out by the NSPCC and Sugar magazine (whose average

    readers are 15 year old girls) found that 16% of those surveyed had been hit by a boyfriend, 6% forced to have sex and yet 40% of them accepted this behaviour. Other surveys also found out that there is widespread victim blaming among young people. In one study carried out in Southwark in 2006, young men were more likely than young women to accept aggressive behaviour in relationships justifying such 4behaviour with actions of the partner, such as unfaithfulness. An End Violence 5against Women poll in 2006 also found 40% of young people had been pressured to have sex. An encouraging 95% stated that violence against partner was unacceptable and yet when given justifications, this figure dramatically decreased. For instance, 27% thought that it was ok for a boy to expect sex if a girl had been flirting with him.

    Worryingly, 59% of young people in the EVAW study did not know how to advise their friends if they were worried about their relationship being abusive. To this end, the Greater London Domestic Violence Project has recently published a leaflet entitled ‘how to help your mates’ which offers practical advice on how to

    recognise warning signs and what to do to help friends who may be in unhealthy relationships. This is available on our website (see links at end of article). It is also important to remember that young people in same sex relationships can face added vulnerability. One study found that ? of 117 young people in same sex 6relationships reported domestic violence. As well as the many myths that surround

    domestic violence in general, there are many more stereotypes that LGBT young victims may face which can make it harder for them to access services. Myths such as ‘abuse between people of the same-sex is ‘mutual’, so both are equally

    responsible for any abuse’ or ‘if abuse occurs, the person experiencing domestic

    abuse and the perpetrator will ‘play-out’ heterosexual gender roles (for example,

    the abuser will be butch while the non-abusive partner will more feminine)’ are

    extremely unhelpful.

    Young people especially have a lack of experience generally around forming safe relationships and may realise that abusive behaviour is not ok. For LGBT young people especially, they may not be linked into a social network (if they are not ‘out’ yet or due to a lack of specific services).

     2 Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Blackwell Publishing/Polity Press. 3 NSPCC/Sugar Online Survey (2006)

    4 Safer Southwark Partnership (2006) 5 EVAW/ICM (2006) UK poll of 16-24 year olds 6 HALPERN, C.T., YOUNG, M.L., WALLER, M., MARTIN, S. and KUPPER. L. (2004) ‘Prevalence of Partner Violence in Same sex Romantic and Sexual Relationships in a National Sample of Adolescents’, Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol., 35 No. 2, pp.124-131.

    Therefore it is important to remember that within the general vulnerability of being young (remember that 16-24 year olds are most at risk, there are even more vulnerable groups within that wider age group.

Risk and protective factors

    It is important to remember that risk factors are correlational and not causal. Some of these factors could be indicative of many things. We can look at risk factors as a way to guide prevention work, to identify people who could be at risk, and also as outcomes which may require intervention.

    Some key risk factors are (and this list is by no means exhaustive):

     Previous experience of violence in the home

    Some research makes links between experiencing domestic violence as a child, and going on to become a perpetrator or a victim as an adult. This theory has not been verified and can place very negative judgements on children and young people growing up in a violent home. It certainly can increase a person’s vulnerability but cannot be said to be a cause of being in an abusive relationship later on in life.

     Depression in childhood

     Poor mental health

     Problem drug and alcohol misuse from early age

     School non-attendance

     Disruption of family unit / being ‘looked after’

     Sexual relationships

     Having a child as a teenager


     Sexual exploitation and sexualised risk taking

    It is also important to think about things that can protect young people from being involved in a violent relationship. Some key protective factors are:

     Achievement at School

     Having a safe haven

     Support from positive role models

     Assertiveness (both internal and external)

     Sense of physical, emotional, and economic security

     Belief that others have high expectations of them

    In fact, the key risk factor for becoming a teenager mother is the aspirations

    that a mother has for her daughter at age 10. If a mother does not have high

    aspirations and does not tell her child that they can succeed in life, there is a

    link to this and becoming a teenage mother.

     Participation in engaging and challenging activities

     Sense of belonging/safety structure

    It can be seen that adolescence is a hugely influential time of life, especially as this is the time when most people are entering into their first relationships so it is important to target this age group with early intervention and prevention work. It is clear that huge numbers of young people in our society are experiencing forms of abuse in their relationships and as professionals we have a duty to respond to this and provide services and support. As well as protecting women and children we also need to challenge the attitudes prevalent in our society that allow gender violence to continue.

Relevant links

    Woman’s Aid website for children and young people

    Nottingham domestic violence forum interactive website for young people

    Womankind interactive website for young people

    Greater London Domestic Violence Project website (see children and young people’s section)

New Projects

Support for Children, young people and mothers (AVA)

    AVA has recently been funded by Comic Relief to roll out a community groups treatment programme (cgtp) across London. This programme is for children, young people and their mothers who have experienced domestic violence and provides a community based setting for them to share and talk about their experiences. It is originally a Canadian model and has been piloted and successfully evaluated in LB Sutton.

    Historically, recognition of the needs of children living with domestic violence in the UK has been largely confined to refuge services. Research in the UK suggests that the majority of children who have lived with domestic violence would prefer to talk to other children with similar experiences. For most children outside of the refuge system this is sadly not an option due to the severe lack of community-based programmes for children who have witnessed domestic violence.

The programme runs over a twelve-week period for children aged 4 21. Children

    are divided into age-specific groups. Core issues addressed are: * validation of the children’s experiences;

    * understanding abuse;

    * reducing self blame;

    * safety planning;

    * managing appropriate and inappropriate expressions of emotion.

    The programme offers a concurrent component for mothers to also attend a group. Mothers are supported to understand how the violence has impacted on the child and how best to help them through the healing process.

    Collaboration and commitment across partner agencies has been the absolute key to success in operating and sustaining the community group programme. The benefits of such a multi agency approach are huge, as not only do staff increase their knowledge and skills in this area of work, so too do they make it transferable

    to other work settings. In addition, staff taking part from specific agencies, bring the expertise from their primary work environment and utilise that in group to assist children who are encountering difficulties in other aspects of their lives. We know from Victoria Climbe, Baby P and other child protection cases the dangers of failure to work together in practice and this is particularly true in relation to children living with domestic violence. Providing a coordinated community programme reliant upon multi agency collaboration has the potential to improve services to children and women experiencing domestic violence and to maximise their continual safety and well-being.

    We will be approaching all London boroughs to gain their commitment to this project. AVA and the original Canadian trainers will then train people from each borough who will then in turn train people within their boroughs to facilitate the actual groups. Each borough will also need to appoint a coordinator to generate referrals and carry out assessments. We would welcome any LSCB staff to directly contact us for more information and to provide us with details about who the best people are in their borough to present this information to.

For more details please contact:

    Jo Sharpen

    0207 785 3866

Support for young people using violence (Respect)

    Respect has begun a new Young People’s Services Development Project, a scheme which has been awarded three years worth of funding from Comic Relief andthe DCSF Children and Young Peoples Fund. Essentially the project is about developing a toolkit for those working with adolescents around their violence in relationships.

It will run in three phases (of approximately one year each):

    - Development Phase - relevant research and practice synthesised to produce a service model and toolkit for targeted work with 13-19 year olds who are using violence and abuse in relationships.

    - Pilot Phase - In partnership with a range of agencies, this toolkit will then be piloted, evaluated and revised accordingly.

    - Dissemination Phase - delivery of four regional training packages and a national conference.

    The pilot phase will include individual work with young men and women who are identified as using violence and abuse, as well as group work with young men. The pilot work will take place in three different regions and the group work will cover three different age groups between 13 and 19 years old.

The toolkit will address:

    * exercises for individuals / groups

    * heterosexual / same sex relationships

    * young male and female perpetrators

    * those who are parents

    * covering violence to intimate partners / mothers

    * and have a strong emphasis on experiences of being abused including safety issues.

    There will also be linked safety services for parents and partners of the young people using violence.

    For details please contact: Kate Iwi or Julia Worms at Respect;

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