AN online campaign to raise awareness of teenage relationship abuse has been launched by Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit as new NSPCC figures reveal thousands of teenage girls are suffering in silence.
By Angela Haggerty
LESS than 20% of girls who are sexually assaulted by a teenage boy are likely to reveal the abuse and a recent pilot training project for youth workers run by charity Zero Tolerance and YWCA Scotland – “Under Pressure: Preventing teen abuse and exploitation” – showed more than a third of youth workers had experience of a young person saying they felt pressured into engaging in acts of a sexual nature.
Jenny Kemp, coordinator of Zero Tolerance – a charity addressing violence against women – said: “Teen abuse is a huge problem in Scotland and all too often what starts as relationship abuse can quickly spiral into sexual exploitation. Lots of teenagers find it hard to identify what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy and young women are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”
Research by the NSPCC and the University of Bristol released in 2009 first indicated the depth of the problem, revealing one in four teenage girls said they had experienced physical violence in their earliest relationships and a third had suffered unwanted sexual acts.
Head of the NSPCC’s Head of Strategy and Development for Sexual Abuse programme, Jon Brown, said: “Many girls are being forced to carry out sexual acts and in some cases are even being raped. We’re not talking about ‘horse play’ or teenagers experimenting, this is often serious abuse.
“But unfortunately many of the girls don’t see it that way. They think it’s just part of a relationship they have with a boy or may be too embarrassed or frightened to tell anyone about it.
“When an adult sexually abuses a young person,” he added, “there is a greater chance it will be reported to someone – police, a parent or a teacher. But when a teenage boy is responsible it seems to slip into another category where the same alarm bells don’t ring with the victim.”
The online campaign, launched by Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and Zero Tolerance, aims to raise awareness of the problem and features a short animation based on the traditional “he loves me, he loves me not” flower game.
Chief Inspector Graham Goulden, who coordinates the VRU’s National Anti-Violence Campaign, said: “Everyone has the right to a safe, happy relationship. Unfortunately, for young people it can sometimes be hard to distinguish caring behaviour from potentially abusive behaviour. We need to make them aware that such behaviour is unacceptable so they can have healthy relationships based on mutual respect.
“No one should tolerate physical violence or emotional abuse in a relationship.”
The NSPCC is calling for the introduction of education programmes to help confront the issue and “dispel the perception girls are just sex objects”.
The charity is also encouraging young people to seek help through Childline, teachers or parents if they are being forced of pressured into carrying out sexual acts.
Sue Minto, head of Childine, said: “It’s vitally important that young girls get help and support if they find themselves in a situation where they are being coerced into having sex.
She added: “Whoever it is we would want to encourage anyone affected (by abuse) to talk to someone about it or contact us confidentially by phone or online.”