Education on domestic violence at a young age is vital, writes SHABANA KAUSAR
WOMEN’S AID has pioneered innovative programmes for children — both those at risk of domestic violence and the general population — with the aim of stopping violence before it starts in generations to come.
Shockingly, Women’s Aid has found that some of the highest rates of domestic violence and abuse are in teenage relationships.
The government increased the parameters of domestic abuse to include 16-year-olds to address this, but domestic abuse is an issue in even younger relationships, and we see this playing out far too often in schools.
At least 2,865 sex-crime reports were recorded by police between 2011 and 2013, and more than 320 alleged rapes have been reported in schools in the last three years.
Last year alone, there were 134 reported rapes in UK schools.
At the same time, police forces have cut back on numbers of officers based in schools.
Schools are having to address increasingly serious issues and are not always equipped to do so.
This is especially true when we consider the increasing influence of media and technology. Although these have many advantages, there can be a worrying negative impact on young people’s relationships.
The time I spent in school looked very different — no easy access to hardcore porn, no such thing as “sexting” and a media not nearly as saturated with the hyper-sexualisation of young people.
The Everyday Sexism project gives countless accounts from young people, particularly girls, experiencing sexism in a place where they should be safe to learn and develop.
One said: “When I was at secondary school it was quite normal for the boys to grope the girls. One day, while walking up the stairs to my next class, one of the boys put his hand up my skirt and groped my vagina. When I told a passing teacher he said: ‘Oh well, boys will be boys’.”
Another reported: “In one lesson at school today, I heard more than 10 rape jokes, mostly by the boys. I am 13 years old.
If that’s what they’re like aged 13, I am truly worried at what they will be like when they are older. Rape culture sickens me. Also, in the four years I have had sex education at school, not one lesson talked about consent.”
Too often young girls and women are told to watch what they drink, what they wear and where they go in order to “prevent” rape. Society prefers to tell women not to get raped, than men not to rape.
With sex and relationship education not compulsory on the national curriculum, the quality of children’s learning about relationships is subject to a postcode lottery.
Too often the emphasis is placed on responding to domestic abuse. Of course this is important, but unless schools challenge the attitudes and beliefs that underpin domestic abuse, we will always be fire-fighting.
It’s vital we provide young people with the skills and confidence to understand the importance of consent, respect and healthy relationships.
Evidence shows that increasing knowledge and awareness of domestic abuse in the general population of children and young people really can result in behaviour change.
Schools need to be proactive in safeguarding their young people and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to abuse.
Early intervention that highlights the importance of relationships built on respect and trust ensures that young people are able to identify abusive relationships and seek support for both victims and perpetrators.
It is so important that schools are supported to address this very serious issue, and the Women’s Aid’s Safer Futures project looks to do exactly this. Safer Futures consists of a national team of school advocates who build networks between local schools, specialist domestic violence services and local authorities to ensure that healthy relationships education is delivered responsibly and effectively in schools across the country.
We can all play a part in building a safer future for children, through greater awareness of the realities of life for young people in the technological age and by asking local schools to engage.
Shabana Kausar is the National Schools Engagement Officer for Women’s Aid.
Safer Futures is keen to engage with schools to better support their pupils. From now until March Safer Futures is holding workshops across the country with the aim of recruiting school advocates who will support teachers to address this issue. If you are interested in knowing more about the project or would like to attend a school advocate workshop, please visit www.womensaid.org.uk